Remember that first scene from Star Wars where Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the robots were fleeing the Imperial ships in the Millenium Falcon? A very tense moment. If they weren’t going to be fried by the laser cannons they were going to be flattened by the galactic clothes irons. All they had to do was engage that darn hyperdrive. Funny how that turning the hyperdrive key sounded like my first Chevy starting up in the middle of an Upstate New York winter…
Just when all hope was lost it engaged. A hundred thousand streaks of light pass by as the faster than light nitrous pack fired up. Then they were gone! Whew! What if they didn’t know where they were going? That could be ugly. End up shooting right in to a cosmic brick wall. Have you ever started your day that way?
Enthusiasm without a harness is amusing at best, but with focus can be a very powerful force. I’m working on a multi-month project with an M.D. where I’m translating their designs into working software. Thankfully, she explains and types her thoughts out. ;-) And, it’s a Saturday so its time to hunker down and get some work done.
Where to start?
Where to start? There is a whale of work to do. How do I even begin today? I’ve got to get this project done! We are co-creating this project as we go. I’ve got the ideas and a clue of their order of priority in my head. Today it’s all on me to pull down the words and transcribe them into code. I’ve got caffeine in me. Fire up the hyperdrive engine and blast through, thats what I’m going to do.
No, that’s not what I’m going to do. That may be a great idea if you’ve got unlimited money and consequences do not count but in this case pure enthusiasm is poison. I’m going to begin this day with the end in mind.
Begin with the end in mind
Steven Covey’s second Habit of Highly Successful People is to “Begin with the end in mind.” ”Everything is created twice”, he said. First there’s the mental creation then there’s the physical manifestation. The end product unfolds from it’s DNA blueprint. Each aspect comes to life in the order it needs to, with the ultimate structure being a derivative of this beautiful unpacking of the design into the product. Ahhh, how inspiring is that? I’m glad I’m sitting down. How do I do that? (Did I just delay my productive time further???)
I need to figure out how to capture that “end in mind” for today. Yesterday’s gone. Tomorrow’s not here. The project is not due for a couple of months. Let’s get grounded here. What to do right now is the key, because “if you don’t know where you’re going, chances are you will end up somewhere else.”
Time box this effort
We are going to answer a series of deductive questions to get a picture of today’s “end in mind.” We are going to time-box this process. I invite you to read this post on The Pomodoro Technique to time-box this effort: http://mindfulprogrammer.com/2012/11/07/twisted-tomatoes-or-how-ive-learned-to-love-time-boxed-work-sprints/ Like I had mentioned in that post, Pomodoro time limits are generally 25 minutes but are flexible so you can take between 15 to 30 minutes to ask high quality questions to bootstrap some code slinging.
Before I share my questions here I need to confess that I am a classic “hyperbolic task chunker.” I am going to create the next Twitter today! ”Coder, please…” When it comes to tasks I need to accomplish, I blow things way out of proportion. How can I reduce the size of the tasks at hand to bites that are do-able? For someone like myself deductive questions help me get focused, such as the following:
Ask questions to connect with your purpose
What is the mission of this project? The intention of this question is to inspire the purpose for doing this work. I like to start here because I like to long for the endless sea. Take this as an opportunity to be of a higher mind when answering this question. If your project is not inspiring then ask your soul for it’s purpose. (Yep, scary, I know.) Go with that one that gives you a fire to move forward. Life after all is more than money boys and girls (horror!)
Next, what would delight my user? This question intends to inspire a connection between what you are about to do and how the product of what you do will be of service to your higher purpose. What’s the connection with the user? Working software is used. Without getting in to the “get off my lawn” school of design there’s always a user for working software. (On the other hand, if the software doesn’t work, well, the vector is different.)
Where am I along this process and what remains to be done? This is where you check your map. Wherever you are along the road in this project you will have some idea of where you are in its manifestation. You may have a clear sense of what you have done. You may need to find the map. Either way look at this objectively. Don’t panic! Where are you on the map? From where I am on this map what are the next 1 to 5 things I can do to move forward towards fulfilling my connection purpose as they relate to completing this project?
With this list you can rank these 1 to 5 things in order of how valuable and risky they are to the project. The higher the value and risk the higher the priority of the task to tackle. If you find yourself in a situation where everything is of highest priority then take notice. Remember that the clock is ticking on getting though this process so perhaps you need to do some introspection as to why everything is so important?
Next I “check in” with myself. How do I feel physically? How do I feel mentally? How do I feel emotionally? How do I feel spiritually? How do these, and other of their kind questions’ answers align with my “map,” “connection” and “purpose?” Oh, and how is my breathing? Through these questions I consciously focus on breathing meditation to get through the remainder of this dialectic.
I then follow with more specific questions. What tools do I have? What time is it? What do I have scheduled today? Is my working environment productively conducive? Do I need to hang a “do not disturb?” What does my spouse need? Do I need to water my kids? Do I have enough water? These are what I call “terrain” checks.
However this may be pulling off the road to take in a scenic overlook, let’s find where these “terrain” checks come from. ”The map is not the territory” said Alfred Korzybski in his book “Science and Sanity.” (This will help you sleep: http://esgs.free.fr/uk/art/sands.htm) Korzybski was a cognitive philosopher and mathematician who essentially posited that human beings cannot truly know reality because of the layers and layers of translation it takes to observe and interpret phenomena.
Center yourself with the tasks of your purpose
Because perception gets in the way of observing reality it is important to become centered in the present moment. Terrain checks help in the centering process. To become centered in the present moment one becomes more aware of what they really have to work with, the states, conditions, materials, objectives and environment within which they will exercise their purpose. Now write down answers on how to align these “terrain checks” with the purpose, connection and 1 to 5 tasks.
Not to stress you out either but “tick, tock…” This is a good time to take a deep breath. Take another one. How about another? Keep breathing, its good for you.
By this time you’ve either knocked your forehead against the desk, blissed out from breathing meditation or have come to wonder when the point is to come. Fair enough. The point is that to begin with the end in mind you have to get as centered in your current reality as you possibly can within a time-boxed period. Like I said, in 15 to 30 minutes you’ve answered your own questions that will orient you globally and specifically to the purpose of your work down through to your current conditions. Within this time you’ve also now observed how your current conditions match or not your purpose, connection and map, and most significantly, how you can make your current conditions work for you realistically. From this orientation you’ve discovered a set of answers to these questions.
You have answered “why am I doing this,” “what are the next 1 to 5 things I can do ranked in order of priority” and ”how do I enable myself to be more productive?”
Take a break. Your Pomodoro should be done by now. Clear your head. Get some water. Once you come back, reset the Pomodoro and get to work.
“Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it.…Success is shy — it won’t come out while you’re watching.”
– Tennessee Williams