Sprinting

I didn't get anything done last week. Nothing at all. Most of my days were spent reading random stuff on the internet, making minor tweaks to Blogabond, and obsessing over traffic stats for Twiddla (why did 5000 people suddenly show up from StumbleUpon in one day???)

This week, on the other hand, I've been on fire. In the last 4 days, here's what I've accomplished:

  • Built a Reddit clone from the ground up for Rootdown's soon-to-be-live Clinical Pearls section.
  • Built a Google-Maps powered acupuncture chart, cut up 3000 tiles for it, incorporated effective Lat/Lon coordinates into Rootdown's database, and built a little Ajax data entry tool to drag & drop acupuncture points and meridians onto the chart.
  • Reworked the Photo uploading and Photo management pieces of Blogabond.
  • Tore out and streamlined the installation process for Regressor.NET
  • Wrote this lame article
Trust me, that's a lot of stuff.

I've noticed this same pattern happening over and over again. I think of it as Sprinting, and I think I'm getting better at harnessing it. There are a few factors that play into it, but I think the key is knowing that I have an entire day to Sprint on whatever it is that I want to do. Knowing Absolutely that the door to my office won't open, the phone won't ring, and no little IM popups will bother me for the Next Twelve Hours. Knowing that I'm free to get as deep into what I'm doing as I need to get whatever I'm doing Done and Done for good. Those are the days that I get the most accomplished.


Sprinting for a different reason:
Team Expat, Running with the Bulls in 1998
Another thing that seems to help, at least for me, is to have more than one ball in the air at a time. When I've only got one project, I seem more content to move slowly, check my email, read the occasional blog, and essentially stuff my productivity. But when I've got 3 things the Need to Get Done, and there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all, I find that I work a lot faster.

Better still is to have something ELSE that I should really be doing. You should SEE the days I spend blowing off paid work to Sprint on a side project.

But it more than just blowing off one project for another. The real advantage of having more than one project going at a time is that if I get blocked for any reason, I can switch over to another project and continue Sprinting at the same pace. If I'm motivated to move fast, it doesn't really matter all that much what I'm moving on, provided I'm moving. If I can ignore the little bottlenecks and keep Sprinting until the inspiration fades, I can get a lot more done overall. If I only had a single thing to work on, any minor distraction, such as missing graphics from a screen designer, could derail me and send me off to check Reddit (and thus get stuck there for six hours.)

I don't think that any of this is new. It's common knowledge that developers tend to work in bursts. I guess the difference for me is that I'm starting to work on ways to facilitate those bursts. To keep them going once they get started. To finally look up and find it's dark out, and I haven't eaten for 16 hours and wow, did I really get all that done in a single day??? That's where I want to be. That's Sprinting.


Jason Kester
@jasonkester

I run a little company called Expat Software. Right now, the most interesting things we're doing are related to Cloud Storage Analytics, Online Classrooms, and Customer Lifecycle Metrics for SaaS Businesses. I'll leave it to you to figure out how those things tie together.


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