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Exit Points - Where Productivity Turns Into Procrastination

Published 11/5/2018

It's November now and we're closing in on the end of the year. As we look past the year and forward toward the future, we reflect and observe. Most of the days past were filled with things we could have done or what we could have done differently. On today's episode of Developer Tea, we're talking about habits.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
I want you to think back over the past couple of days or perhaps the last week or two. I want you to think about how you feel about what you've accomplished. What is your kind of average stress level today and the day before? What are you concerned about? What is weighing down your mind? Do you feel like you've been productive every single day? Do you feel like the systems that you have in place for your own life that they're giving you really what you wanted them to give you? That you're accomplishing the things that you want to accomplish at the pace that you expect to accomplish the mat? You get the picture. Hopefully you know that anybody who's listening to this podcast unless it's a wild fluke, most of the days in the past two weeks for them, if they could, they would change something about them. Whether it's feeling scattered or not getting something done as quickly as we had hoped because we were distracted, there's a whole variety of reasons that a previously good day can go awry. When you wake up with great intentions but for whatever reason, even with the most strong wild people, you just end up not following through. It's November. That means we're coming close to the end of the year. So if you're like most people, you're looking back on the past year, evaluating kind of how it went, but also looking forward to the next year. Looking forward to 2019 and how you might be better. There's kind of a strange disconnect here. We think about ways that we can become better, these resolutions that we end up creating at the beginning of the new year, for example, or maybe we set these goals, these kind of milestones where we expect to celebrate our progress and our accomplishments. But then we look at our day to day. We observe, like we did in the beginning of this episode, we observe the past day, the past week, the past couple of weeks. And most of the days that we remember probably were okay, but most of them were pretty much mediocre. Most of them we probably didn't accomplish everything that we wanted to. We probably were distracted. In today's episode, I want to talk about the systems that create those situations, those situations of distraction. And ultimately productivity, the results that we end up getting on today's episode of Developer Tea. We're talking about habits. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. You're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you connect to your career purpose and do better work so you can have a positive influence on the people around you. That starts with you. It starts with your own experience in this life. If you are a developer and you haven't thought about habits, then first of all, you probably haven't listened to Developer Tea. This is something we talk about quite a bit, but you're also not alone. For most of our lives, we aren't really trained to think about how to build good habits. We're just told that we should have the right habits that we should develop the habit of exercising regularly and brushing our teeth every day and making up our beds and doing our homework. These are things that are instilled in us mostly through some kind of reward system, or the flip side of rewards, some kind of punishment system. If you reward a good behavior, then that good behavior is likely to increase in most living beings. This is certainly true for humans. If you punish a bad behavior, or if you withhold a reward, and you know that that reward is being withheld, then that's equivalent to a punishment, then the bad behaviors are likely to decrease. This is relatively effective. The problem is, when we get out on our own and we have some level of autonomy over our time, we haven't really learned how to effectively design those rewards and those punishments, and perhaps what's even more important is that we're dealing with very human experiences. Things aren't always cut and dry. Things are not always as simple as rewarding the good and punishing the bad. In today's episode, I want to focus on identifying the places where our good intentions fall apart, where we have a good plan. We have the right mindset heading into, let's say, a work day, or heading into our evening, into our weekend, into some rest time, or even at night, we have good intentions to go to bed early and get a good night's sleep, and something goes wrong. We're going to talk about the places that that happens in today's episode. Then in the next episode, I want to give you some practical tips for creating a short circuit at those failure points, at the point where you are going off the track, creating a short circuit, creating habits, systems of habits that you can redirect the ship. You can get back on course. I want to go ahead and preface all of this content by saying a lot of inspiration has been given by the work of Charles DuHig and the work of James Clear. These are both people who have written books about habit forming. I encourage you to go and check those out. DuHig's book is called The Power of Habits, and James Clear's book is called Atomic Habits. We aren't just going to talk about habits in general. We're going to talk about how this topic applies to developers specifically and how some of our specific habits can easily fall apart. But first, I want to talk about today's awesome sponsor, Digital Ocean. Digital Ocean provides scalable compute services, flexible configurations, size for any application, and industry leading price to performance ratios. With Digital Ocean, you get pricing that is consistent across regions at any usage volume. You can rapidly provision any number of resources, and you'll get amazing perks like, for example, monitoring and alerting that are included with Digital Ocean. A Digital Ocean is not only going to provide you with excellent service and easy to use scaling platform, but they're also going to give you $100 worth of credit to use on that platform. Head over to dio.co slash tea. That's $100 worth of credit on Digital Ocean by going to dio.co slash tea. That's dio.co slash t. Thanks again to Digital Ocean for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So let's jump into today's topic. These are really going to be situations that hopefully you'll identify with as a developer. Certain moments in time that will cause us to go off track, whether that is a trigger into some kind of procrastination, or maybe it's something else like a black hole that is taking all of your time and unfortunately providing almost no value. So I want to get into this today. If you're taking notes now is the time to pull out a piece of paper and a pen because this is a list, it's not just three things. It's going to be a little bit of a longer list in today's episode and we're going to move through it pretty quickly because you're probably going to identify with these without much of an explanation for each one. So let's jump straight in. We have a couple of kind of overarching categories and then some specific scenarios and by no means is this a comprehensive list. This is just a list that I came up with that seemed to be kind of hot spots for me and for other Developer That I know. So the first kind of category is lots of energy and nowhere to put it. You have a lot of creative energy or maybe motivation and you have nowhere to actually channel that energy. Now you probably in reality could find plenty of places to channel it but perhaps you are not clear on the tasks that are provided to you. Maybe you're not certain if a task that you do have access to the details, let's say in some project management software or something or email thread, you're not certain if that task is yours or someone else's and also all of your so-called assigned work may already be done. So now what do you do? And this category is incredibly important because it's probably the most common scenario that you'll run into as a developer. There's probably going to be a lot of situations where you're not certain what you need to be working on and it is your job and perhaps the job of the people that collaborate with you to get that clarity as soon as possible. Even when you've finished all of your so-called assigned work, there's almost certainly more work to be done. And you almost certainly will benefit from continuing working, staying in that kind of frame of mind. Whether you're working on your own project or you're working for a company, you're going to benefit from continuing working even when you don't necessarily have assigned work. So that is one situation where people go off the rails a lot is when there's a lot of motivation but you're not really certain what the best place to put it is. And so instead of putting your energy into something, you end up doing something different, procrastinating. The next category is maybe you have a handful of tasks but all of them aren't equally important and urgent. This is a difficult one kind of category because the way that we handle this is often bad. We often do very poor management techniques when we run into the scenario. So a handful of tasks, all of them equally important and urgent. This is almost certainly not true but sometimes we can't really discern which one is more important than the other. So what we might end up doing is getting into a multitasking black hole. This is where you're jumping between, for example, if you find yourself doing multiple types of things in a single branch, assuming that you use a branch workflow to merge into a master code base. Then you're probably kind of guilty of this in that moment. When you have multitasking happening, you're never really focusing enough on one thing to get it all the way done in the most efficient way possible and tasks switching is a productivity nightmare for humans. So the alternative option in this category of having a handful of equally important, equally urgent tasks is to do nothing to procrastinate until one of those tasks spikes up in importance. This is kind of like the lowest common denominator or reducing all of these to zero. Maybe that's the mathematical trick that our brain is playing on us. That if nothing is more important than the other, then nothing is important at all. We have to wait until something elevates one of those tasks to feel the need to work on it. So that's the category of having a handful of tasks and all of them being equally important. The next category is a big one and there's no way we're going to be able to dive fully into it, but it's distractions. You have things like habitual pull distractions, things where when I say pull, I mean you are pulling them to you. Imagine you kind of standing in front of your computer and you're pulling the distractions towards you. Examples of this are opening social media by muscle memory. For example, I have the bad habit of opening a tab and immediately typing the letters TW and the auto fill or the autocomplete on my browser filling out Twitter. Other pull distractions that you may have could be something as simple as going and reading the news or picking up a book that you're really interested in. These are not necessarily bad habits. These are not necessarily bad things. They just happen to be perhaps wrongly placed, poorly timed habits. So pull distractions. The next type of distraction that we have is push distractions and hopefully this is not really surprising. You can have interruptions and this can be physical. Imperson interruptions. Somebody tapping you on the shoulder or maybe you see something if you're sitting in a coffee shop for example. You might see somebody walk by that you know and that pulls your brain up out of the work that you're doing and you have to get back into that work that you were doing. Other examples are quite literally push notifications on your computer, on your phone. You can have a call come in, you might have an email come in and then we check those, we clear those notifications and then guess what? More come, just in a few minutes after. We thought we had cleared all of those notifications. So distractions are a hugely important aspect of how we go off track when we're trying to control our time. Very similar to distractions because some of these come as the result of a distraction or it could be described as a distraction are valueless time sinks. Valueless time sinks. This is something that you pour a lot of time into thinking for whatever reason that you should. Thinking that it's important. Thinking that you're going to get value out of it but unfortunately often you don't get as much value for the time that you put into it and you often put in more time than you expected to put into it. One example this might be getting your inbox to inbox zero. Another example is having an endless debate about which language or which JavaScript framework to use. Another example and this is perhaps a little bit more elusive because this is kind of going off the deep end of a good thing that is over engineering. Spending too much time. Getting in engineering design energy, another example or word for this. I guess is over optimizing. If you are over optimizing a given project or even a given method, if you're overthinking any part of your coding process, this can be a huge time sink. Next category of things that can derail you are blockers. Blockers are not necessarily the same thing that you might be used to when you're talking about am I blocked on this project. That would be something that you can't do anything about. You're waiting on somebody else to do or you're waiting on maybe an approval process to come through. Instead, these blockers may be self-inflicted as well. For example, fear of failure. That could be a blocker to action. Back of clarity for what the task at hand may require. This is another blocker. Of course, somebody else not having done something that you needed them to do, that may make you feel blocked. It may make you feel like, especially if you had gone through all the prioritization things and you were mentally prepared for this thing to be done. It wasn't done that can feel like the license to kind of veer off the path and procrastinate. Another example of a blocker might be being in over your head. This can induce a lot of fear. If you're in over your head, let's say a project requires some skill set that you don't have or maybe some context that you don't have and you want to develop that context. You're also afraid to admit that you accept it on this task or this project without really knowing that you were incapable of finishing it. That can be a blocker towards action. An elast category is very important and also quite different from the rest of these categories. That is, that you are physically unable. You're physically unable. If you're sick or tired or depressed, anxious. Once you're excited on the positive side of things, you're excited about something entirely outside of work or otherwise you're just not in the right frame of mind. All of these things can cause, can kind of be exit points for that veering off the path and procrastinating. Now, will we be foolish of me to say that again, this list is comprehensive but also not to identify that sometimes we don't really understand why we procrastinate. Sometimes there's not an easily identifiable root cause. And part of the reason for this is that humans are just not machines. We're not built to maximize our efficiency every single day like a machine would be. Instead we have to understand that our humanity means that there's some unpredictable realities in our nature. And sometimes our mood is going to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other end of the spectrum. And that we're going to have to learn how to deal with that humanity better. Both at a personal level but also organizationally and collaboratively with each other, understanding that people don't have a switch that we turn on at 9 o'clock in the morning and then turn off at 5 or turn off for the weekend for that matter. And most of what we do as humans has messy edges. That things bleed into other things and that the work that I do at work has a profound effect on a personal life and my personal life and my hobbies have a profound effect on the work that I do. And so it's important to understand that sometimes procrastination, whether we like it or not, is part of the human experience. And we may need to learn ways not necessarily to reverse procrastination, not necessarily to maximize every single bit of productivity that we can out of our body, but instead to work around it and to work with it and to accept it. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developers. Make sure you listen to the next episode. We're going to be talking about some practical ways to deal with the realities that we discussed in today's episode. We talked about specifically a lot of the places, the moments, the situations that you might exit that productivity path that you were on and end up in procrastination land. And I want to share with you some things that have worked for me as well as some science backed things that you may be able to try to improve your habit forming and short circuit these kind of procrastinator exit points. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to Digital Ocean for sponsoring today's episode. You can get a hundred dollars worth of credit at Digital Ocean by going to dio.co slash t a that's d o dot c o slash t thanks again to Digital Ocean. Thanks so much for listening. I want to miss out on that future episode about habits. I encourage you to subscribe and whatever podcasting app you're using to listen to this episode right now. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.