To do two things at once is to do neither - Pubilius Syrus
In my posts, I emphasise doing the most important things and asking the why. However, I have not addressed the fact if I should be doing these things at once or together. Do I solely focus on one task or do I do multiple things at once? This post will describe 3 tips on how to get more done during the day.
When I talk about doing the most important thing, it is the most important thing. Confused? Too straightforward? Yes. In the past few days, I found myself rather overwhelmed with the workload and the amount of information coming to me. I’ve started to ignore a few items, note them down and do them later, I’d read them again and think "I really need to get this done", but some things never get done. Sometimes, what we perceive as extremely important at the time is not important at all.
Take for example, a bug that you found. You spend a good amount of time trying to convince a stakeholder of yours that this bug needs to be fixed - It gets fixed. Now you realise, yes, it’s a bug, but should it have been fixed? The answer is yes, but should it have been fixed at the time - maybe not. What I’m trying to say is that I may have wasted the developer’s time, the stakeholder’s time, and my own time when I could be doing something that is more important.
In the summer of 2009, Clifford Nass set out to answer the question “So, if the most important thing is the most important thing, why would you try to do anything else at the time?” An excellent question. Why do people do multiple things at once? Why do people waste their energy on a goal that is not objective. His mission was to find out, how well multitaskers multitasked.
Students were given questionnaires to determine how often students multitask. The answers were split into two groups, people that are doing multiple tasks at once and people that do things one at a time. Can you guess who performed better? I was wrong. I thought the multi-taskers were better at doing stuff than people that do one thing at once. What they found out, is that multi-taskers are suckers for irrelevancy, doing things that are not the most important, doing things that they didn’t need to do. Simply put it - they are time wasters.
Multi-tasking is a lie. In the past few days, I found myself in the middle of testing getting questions on skype, getting face-to-face questions and last minute meetings. Then after some time, I got asked “So, is the release ready?” A sudden realisation hit me, I did not get anything done. Below is a set of things that you can consider on how to get your testing done.
Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time - Steve Uzzell
The Modern Office
What is your office like? Mine is like a paradise of distraction and multitasking demands. While you diligently try to test, someone gets a coughing fit and asks if you have strepsils. The printer is continually printing and you can hear that soothing printing sound. You’re alerted on the clock to new emails arriving in your inbox while your phone keeps vibrating because your friend keeps sending you snaps of the sheep that they have in their office (Why don’t we have a sheep in our office 🙁 ? ). You look at JIRA and you see a backlog of things that you need to create test plans, test cases and to automate. A stack of haribos getting thrown at you by your generous colleagues. Distraction and Disturbance. Testing can get exhausting. Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions. And yet amid all of this we still assure we can rise above it and do what has to be done within our deadlines. Are you kidding me? We are driving ourselves insane.
Distractions happen - it is a part of life. Don’t feel bad because you could not get enough time to do your task. Here are a few things that have helped me get more things done than if I kept allowing myself to get distracted.
Testing Time Blocks
Time blocking is a protected block of time, for me it’s somewhere between 40-60 minutes. During this session, I focus on testing. If you are the test manager, you protect the tester’s session - You say to them “Do not Disturb” that everyone should respect unless a serious issue must be dealt with immediately
Testers who don’t find ways to protect their time don’t get their testing done because they are so frequently interrupted with unexpected questions and last minute meetings.
In my previous post, I talked about building a bunker - Before you build your bunker, tell the people most likely to contact you when you will be available and to only contact you if it is absolutely critical- people are accommodating. Find somewhere to work that takes you out of the path of disruption and interruption. Sometimes there are free rooms, I go inside it and close the door.
Productive people get more done and achieve better results. They do so because they devote maximum time to being productive on their top goal.
Log your interruptions
If you don’t think you need to defend your testing time from constant interruptions, you are wrong. You need to generate an interruptions log to protect yourself. In the log, list every phone call, skype message questions, every face-to-face questions, every meeting. Do this for 2-4 weeks.
- What was the longest uninterrupted time that I was able to dedicate to test planning or testing itself?
- Was my testing time block respected?
- Did you manage to get your planning done on time?
I’m sure you found yourself getting questioned by your product manager, project manager, or someone else with “How is the project progressing?” and you answer with “not well”, it does not look good in your part. They start questioning “Why not?” and you can’t remember what distractions occured. Start protecting yourself with an interruptions log and reduce work stress and try to figure out ways to remove distractions.
If you are a senior tester, a test manager, a test lead, working with a tester who is having productivity problems, coming in early, missing lunches, or doing overtime, this interruptions log is something that should be considered. This will help the tester to prioritise his work, know the interruptions that are happening, to understand what you have to do to help the tester.
THIS IS NOT A DISCIPLINARY TOOL - I can not emphasise this well enough. You are just there to help them be more focused and understand that people get overwhelmed.
Start Saying “No”
It’s one thing to be distracted when you’re trying to focus, it’s another thing to be hijacked of your important work, your testing. Your colleagues will ask for your advice and help, you will get into meetings. Understand that when you keep saying yes to something, you have to know what you’re saying no to”.
In my first post, I described that it is the tester’s job to clarify the mission and the goal. For example, you have a deadline in 3 days and it will take you approximately 3 days to test, can you afford to get distracted? If you keep saying yes to requests know that you are losing track.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned to keep me focused is that when I am getting distracted I ask myself “Is this connected to my goal?” If not, then I say “no” to it. There are numerous ways to say no - You can ask them a question that leads them to get help elsewhere. You might suggest another approach that doesn’t require any help at all. You might not know what to do and simply say “I don’t know”.
Learning to say “no” will not make you a hermit. You will gain freedom and flexibility. As the tester, your talent is limited by time. If you don’t make your life about focusing on doing an excellent job then what’s point?
You are the light in the dark
In my first post, I describe the tester as the light in the dark. The tester’s role is to find information along the journey so that the team is able to make better decisions to reach the goal. Yesterday, I recently found out that a process of the software development cycle got skipped. To be specific, the developer started working on something that he has been told to do with the assumption that a ticket has been created, verbally agreed specifications, no proper acceptance criteria - a nightmare. As the tester, it is my responsibility to tell management about this. It could be that the management decides that the developer goes ahead with development whilst another person creates the ticket, it could be that the developer stops his work so that agreed will be done. Whatever the case, you got your point across and made yourself responsible - You are critical to the project.
You may say, is it the developers fault? No - it’s a fault in the process and this should be addressed. As the team member, it is one of your roles to verify if what is being built is correct. Or in this case, ensure that we know what we are actually building. Imagine building a car without blueprints? Imagine baking a wedding cake without asking the couple getting married what they would like? Sounds like a nightmare end result.