How to Escape Trivia Enslavement


—Andy Hunt

05/04/2010
Published in Andy's Blog

"What are you planning on doing today?" That's one of the key three questions you must answer during a daily Scrum meeting. And it's the topic of the first Pomodoro of the day, if you use the Pomodoro technique. No big deal, it's just asking you to think about a goal or set of goals for the day, right? But a "goal" sounds like an elusive, hard to reach target. I suppose we've been conditioned by too much football, where the drive to the goal line is a hard-fought contest of brute strength and occasional cunning. In some ways, a football goal is an easier target than those we face: everyone knows right where it is, and it's not moving. In software and in life, goals are rarely that static or cooperative. So we might need a little help making sure we're actually headed in the right direction. A study done at the Dominican University (http://www.dominican.edu/dominicannews/study-highlights-strategies-for-achieving-goals) showed that three factors contribute to helping you accomplish significantly more toward achieving your goals:
  • Written goals
  • Public commitment
  • Accountability

Just writing your goals down can be a big help. Sharing those goals publicly, even just with a close friend, helps even more. And for the trifecta, you can email your friend with periodic status reports on how you're doing.

Without that kind of support, it's easy to wander aimlessly through the jungle of e-mail, IM's, tweets, failed unit tests, and obfuscated requirements until the week has suddenly evaporated. And that's just on the project—your personal goals are just as important; in some cases, more so.

What happens without goals? Heinlein nails it:

"In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it." — Robert Heinlein

So here's today's challenge. Consider what you're doing. In what way is that advancing you toward your goal, versus daily trivia?

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