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Life (in IT) Lesson #5372: Learning To Say No, Keep Having Fun

In case you haven't noticed I didn't blog for nearly a whole month. Thats not like me. Sure, I have my troughs (and peaks) but in terms of my overall social activity I may as well have been mostly dead. My lame excuse? I've been busy. Yeah just like everybody else I've been working more than usual - but I've been taught a valuable lesson. Fun is key.

Over the last month or so I've been gradually building up a collection of in-progress projects - just like Pokemon. I was taking new ones on even when it felt risky and assuring people I could get the work done. My hubris cost me, and others. I spread myself too thin, I left no time for contingency and eventually I ended up, and this is really the best term for it so excuse the language, "fucking over" one of the projects at the worst possible time I can imagine. I've always prided myself on the fact I can always stay on top of an extremely large amount of work and satisfy all the stakeholders. I guess now I know my limit and I even have an indicator well before this threshold is met that I need to start waving a red flag - when it stops being fun.

I enjoy the vast majority of my work, but obviously there are some aspects that less than fun (writing documents, estimating etc.)1. What started happening was I was doing more non-fun work that fun work (in fact I was doing very little fun stuff at all). This made me less productive, my heart wasn't fully in it and so I wasn't 100% focused. I was less able to predict and plan accordingly and as things started happening on one project (on-site customer meetings etc.) another project had to take the hit and eventually one had to give. The fun factor also meant I was taking on extra work in the vain hope that it might be more fun, which upon reflection, is pretty damn stupid. Oh and lets not forget the fact I was holding off talking to people because of some insane belief that there was a good chance that things would look much better in "another hour or so". Seldom was this the case of course so it mean't that I wasn't raising flags early enough and people felt I was being aloof.

So what will I be doing in future? Well I now have a rule and I will see how it goes. Simply put,

I will only take on more work if I am currently having fun and the new work will not push me into the not fun work spectrum. If I am not having fun I can only take on more work when I have cleared some of my work and am back having fun. The closer I get to the not fun end of the spectrum the sooner and more frequent communication with stakeholders needs to be.

Simple enough but it seems to hold up so far.

  • Give me too much fun work and it stops being fun because there is too much pressure.
  • Give me a single not fun job that isn't fun and I will only accept it provided I can work on my own projects to re-address the fun ratio (blogging about experiences, related technologies etc.)

This probably sounds quite selfish and, well, of course it is. Nobody should expect me to just do whatever they say2 without at least making the deal appealing to me or at least allowing me a certain amount of free time to draw my own benefits from the situation. For example I accept a certain amount of not fun work because I am permitted to do a lot of my own fun work to address the balance.

I think I've left this open enough for personal interpretation and flexibility but strict enough that there is a foundation here to aid in making decisions. If I had applied this rule previously I wouldn't have taken the extra work (even though it seemed appealing at the time - it was fun and I got paid overtime for it) and both myself and the project would be in better shape. But hey how can you ever learn if you never make mistakes?

Is the word fun starting to sound really weird to anyone else?

1 I realise some people LOVE writing documents and estimating - I don't. They are just a necessary part of the job that I live with.

2 There is only one person that CAN - my wife and thats like the law. The company I work for is great at trying to keep their workforce happy and I am in no way implying that they forced work on me. They didn't.

Published in Craftsmanship on August 16, 2011