Focus on the Frisbee

I had my mid-term review at work last week. This is a meeting where I meet with my manager, and we discuss my accomplishments, goals, strengths and weaknesses over the past six months (we have a similar year-end review in the fall).

I won’t brag about the great things I’ve done this year, or how awesome I am at my job, or about the superb goals I’ve set this year. What I want to talk about is my biggest weakness:

I lack focus.

My boss compared me to a puppy.

Tony is great at explaining things. This was a perfect analogy. Here’s how I remember it:

“It’s like bringing a puppy to the park. He’s really excited to be there, full of energy. You throw a frisbee and he’s off and running after it.

Then he catches a whiff of something really interesting, and slows down to figure out what it is.

After following the scent a few steps, he sees a squirrel out of the corner of his eye, and sprints after it…”

You can see where this is going. The puppy takes forever to get to the frisbee, because he got caught up doing other things. Important dog things, maybe. But the goal wasn’t to do great things: the goal was to retrieve a frisbee.

The similarity is striking.

I don’t have a short attention span, and I’m no slouch either. My problem is that I have a lot of energy, and no trouble finding interesting problems to solve.

We need a DAO to retrieve model data? Great! We should probably use Core Data for the model, let me go ahead and set that up. Oh, and this property should be an enumeration! What’s the syntax for that again? What’s the proper way to store enumerations in Core Data, anyway? We’ll want to localize this too, and I’ll need a new function to serialize it for the UI, and…

And all we needed was a DAO.

(Yes, this is a true story.)

Instead of focusing on quickly pumping out the data access classes that we really needed, I wasted time solving interesting sub-problems that weren’t part of my task.

As you might have guessed, this came with consequences. My task was (very) late, and instead of spending that extra energy on other things we really needed that week, I spent it on a deep-dive into enumerations in objective-c.

Lesson learned.

I read a great quote a little while ago. So good that I wrote it down:

“Management is the art of choosing what not to do.”

Turns out the same is true for other disciplines. This was advice I really needed to hear.


(P.S. That last quote is by Michael Lopp, from his book Being Geek. This book is so badass that it has its own trailer. Check it out! It’s a great read.)

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  1. My work has a management strategy that is similar: basically you put your entire life (work and home) into a calendar and classify it into priority. The most important (but not highest) priority level is “WILL NEVER DO”. It keeps you focused on the idea that you can’t commit to everything and that you actually have to make decisions NOT to do things.

    Leah Menard
  2. “No one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do”
    — Frank Turner

    Seb Martin