Don’t Let the Little Things Accumulate

One of my first jobs was working at a pizza restaurant. There are many little tips and tricks you’ll learn over time at any job, and here’s an important one I learned when cooking pizza. As we would pull the pizza pans from the oven and transfer the pizza onto a cutting board, the pans had to be wiped out with a paper towel before they were put away for the night. Many people would simply stack the pans and then do the wiping at the end of the night, which could take a really long time. But I learned early that you could roll up a wad of paper towels and staple the back into a sort of handle, and then just quickly wipe out each pan after you transferred the pizza. This would save you up to an hour of work later that night.

What relevance does this have to software development? Sure, there’s the obvious anecdotes about technical debt and fixing bugs and writing comments and unit tests. But let’s look at a simpler example…the timekeeping for your sprint tasks and timecards. Let’s say that it takes 5-7 minutes a day to go back through your notes and calendar and fill out your actuals on your sprint and timekeeping tools. That doesn’t seem like much, does it? Let’s say that you save it for the end of your one-week sprint. Now it becomes a 30-minute event. Let’s say you save it for your end-of-month reconciliation? Now it becomes a two-hour slog. What could have been a simple cup-of-coffee daily task is now a major annoyance. This is where aspects of the job change from “take a couple of minutes at the end of the day” into a “why am I doing all this non-productive overhead work???” feeling.

Building habits (such as a daily habit of doing your timekeeping) takes repetition to establish the habit, and discipline to enforce the repetition in the beginning. But building the right habits for not cutting corners can pay off in the long run by helping you raise your quality bar on all the work you do. So take that five minutes every day and do your timekeeping, instead of letting it pile up at the end of the month. And who knows…building that discipline can help not only improve the quality of your work, but might also improve your work satisfaction since you won’t have to power through those accumulated backlogged tasks.

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