Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Hi everyone, my name is Michael, and I have a dirty secret.
I am addicted to "procrastination adrenaline".
Much of what I do with this site is discuss areas that many other testers might find they are likewise dealing with, so I feel compelled to say this. It's a big problem, but so many are afflicted with it, and it's time someone came out to talk about it.
So many of us say that we wish we could be more organized, to be better able to parcel out our time, to be more measured and deliberate, but so often, we fall back into our old habits. We know it's bad, we know it's stressful, we know that we could potentially do better work if we didn't do it. So what keeps drawing us back?
There are many answers, and when I was at the first day for STP-Con, I had a chance to talk to a bunch of people in various workshops. As we were talking about getting talks and presentations together, a lot of the people there were sighing and bashfully admitting that they did something similar. They were thinking about and mulling over ideas for weeks at a time, in many cases. Still, when it came time to building the item that needed to ship, for many, it was a just-in-time delivery or a late night in the hotel or an early morning just before the presentation kind of deal. Note, these are not tardy school children. These are accomplished professionals with many years of experience. Yet here we were, commiserating on just how often we did this "by the seat of our pants" completion of items that absolutely have to be delivered at a non negotiable time.
I've been thinking about why we do this, and I believe that for many of us, early in our development, we discovered that we got a rush out of near panic situations. If we had done this and failed miserably, it's likely we would modify our behavior and then be more consistent or plan ahead better. But I think that, for many of us, the opposite happened. It's possible that, with that surge of "procrastination adrenaline" we produced something really good, maybe even far beyond what we believed we could do, and we were praised for it. In a panic, we studied the night before for a big exam, and we aced it. The night before a paper deadline, we rapidly wrote a stream of consciousness essay, and we got an "A" for it. We made a presentation to a group where we didn't have a lot of time to prepare, and we killed it, getting high fives and handshakes all around for knocking it out of the park.
Sane people don't do things when they have proven to be ineffective. Over time they adapt and move towards the things that work. The scary thing about procrastination adrenaline addicts is that, for all intents and purposes, IT DOES WORK! This model does bring out some intense creativity. Maybe not every time. Maybe not with as much polish as something that was developed with measured and deliberate progress over time. The challenge is that the creative engine can produce items of intense brilliance in these periods, and the more frequently we are praised for doing so, the more likely we are to believe that the last minute heroics are exactly why we are creating such "mega brilliance".
How to break ourselves of this addiction? It's tough. I've tried creating artificial deadlines, but my brain knows better, so it's rarely effective. One way that does help, though, is to have an accountability partner, someone who you make a pledge to work with and deliver something at specific milestones. These milestones should be hard and fast, and your accountability partner should be someone who will hold your feet to the fire. While this may make you still do smaller doses of procrastination, they are spread out over the life of a project or deliverable, so that you have to deliver a little at a time. Another way to do it is to have a personal "daily stand up" like we do in Scrum meetings. Even if it's just yourself, take the time to say what you did yesterday, what you plan to do today, and identify any blockers in your path. It may sound weird, but talking out what you want to do and making yourself accountable to yourself can work. It's harder than having a 2nd party willing to be an accountability partner, but it's doable.
For many of us, there may be no reason to break out of our procrastination adrenaline addiction, we should just take advantage of our weird brains and work with it. If that's the case, then Merlin Mann's Procrastination Dash, which is the (10+2)*5 approach to goal management (10 minutes of focus, 2 minute break, repeated 5 times in an hour) may be exactly what's needed to bend the impulse to procrastinate at least somewhat in our favor.
Regardless of where you fall in this, know that I understand your plight, and I battle with this issue regularly. Whether or not you wean off of it completely, or just try to find ways to make it work better for you, focus on making it work for you.