Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Can You Do With an Hour a Day?

Does it feel like you are running to stand still? I feel like this on many days, especially when I have multiple projects to track, and goals that I want to accomplish but never seem to get any traction on. This isn’t a reality that just testers deal with. Almost everyone faces this dilemma, and much of the time, the “urgent” wins out over the “important”. Yet we all still want to make positive movement and develop and grow, right? So how can we do that, realistically?

I have been having a little bit of fun with my son the past month or so. When Final Fantasy XIII came out, we both decided to set up profiles on our Playstation 3 and encourage each other through the game. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to play that my son would have, but I decided on a simple strategy. I would set aside an hour a day to work through and play the game. This is in contrast to the fits and starts of when I play most games. Sometimes I would put in a four to five hour session, just getting totally engrossed, until I would be exhausted, and then other things would take me away from the game for several days, and then I would pour in another long session. The net result is that, while I enjoyed the games and I enjoyed finishing them, I felt like I was emotionally spent by the time the games were over, and I always felt somewhat uncomfortable with the amount of time it would take me to “get back into the groove” of the game.

It’s been a month since FF-XIII came out, and generally I have held to my one hour a day play approach. I’m a little shy of 30 hours into the game, and I have noticed something. While I still have challenges to overcome and strategies to work through and figure out, almost none of my frustration with previous games and that “finding the groove” has been apparent. Each day I get a tiny bit better and I move a little bit farther, but for the most part, I make steady progress and I am genuinely enjoying this game more than I have previous installments. Sure, the game looks great, and it’s fun to play and get bonuses and level up and all that, but the biggest difference is that I don’t miss a beat; each day I make a little bit of progress, and I retain the knowledge and skills needed to keep making steady progress.

I’ve been thinking about this metaphor because I have one major challenge that I just never seem to get any time to get real traction on at work, and that is automation. Through playing FF-XIII this past month, it’s dawned on me what my problem has been. I’ve been waiting for that golden moment when I can have a marathon “automation session”, but testing needs and projects have gotten in the way of my getting it done. So what happens? I keep trying to get the regular testing stuff done so I can clear a big swath to do automation work. Since I’m a Lone Gun tester, I do not have another person that I can say “hey, can you work on this while I do automation work?” So the automation gets put off until I can devote a big chunk of time to it, which frankly is exhausting, and then I have to get back to the regular testing efforts. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So what’s the point of this article? Simple… I hereby pledge to set up each work day so that there is one hour of dedicated automated testing time. I realize that might not sound like much, but it is way better than trying to find time after everything else gets finished. Scheduling it as a daily appointment forces me to clear the deck for that time, and communicate that fact to others, so that I can make some progress in an area that desperately needs it. From there, I keep a calendar and mark off the days that I was able to successfully complete objectives during that period of time. My goals are to start small, study up on frameworks and implement them, to utilize open source tools like Selenium and JMeter to get a better grip on how to develop automated tests, and to spend more time with my current automated test tool, which is TestComplete.

Why just an hour a day? Because I know that, even under the most adverse of testing environments, I can manage to focus an hour of time on this. If I can get more, then of course I will take advantage of that, but making sure that one hour a day gets dedicated to this purpose translates to 5 minimum hours per week, 22.5 hours per month, 250+ hours per year. What’s more, that dedicated time may not move the ball very far very fast, but it will move it forward, and that forward momentum is what’s often needed to gain acceleration and start getting better results. Plus it doesn’t require as much ramp-up time to get into the groove as it does with the marathon stretches separated with long stretches of inactivity.

I realize this is advanced common sense (or perhaps fundamental common sense) but occasionally, we need to be reminded that the important things need to be given time, even if that means some urgent things get pushed back or ignored for a little while. Here’s wishing you all a productive hour a day, and the determination to mark it, keep to your schedule, and stick with it.

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