Preparing for Dry Spells

When I started this blog, I had a plan. I was going to plan to post three times a week.  I would start by building up a backlog of posts, and schedule them to post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and once I was two or three weeks ahead, I would slow down, and work to keep my backlog full of new posts.  This would give me a buffer, so that when I inevitably got too busy at work to write, or got sick, or went on vacation, I would only eat into my buffer instead of having dead air time.

Of course, if you look at my post history, it’s pretty clear that my plan fell apart almost instantly.  I posted twice on June 4th, and then June 6, 7, 8, and 10.  And then radio silence.  What happened?  Well, I hit a busy spell at work.  And then I got sick.  But the real breakdown wasn’t the radio silence.  The real breakdown was the second post on June 4.

All through my career, I’ve heard a piece of advice: never work at flat-out speed.  Don’t report work as finished until a while after you’ve completed it.  Keep a buffer of progress you can turn in to management when you inevitably hit a lull.  And, just like with my blogging, I have never been able to follow this advice.  Here I am, with a document written, or a tricky piece of code cleanly executed, or a piece of functionality I can pass on to QA for testing.  The idea of gamesmanship at that point, of hiding the real nature of my achievement in order to bank it against some future stretch of inability or incompetence, seems utterly foreign to me.

Part of this is that I, at my core, yearn for recognition.  Maybe it’s the Millenial in me: I like the validation of knowing I am someone who can deliver.  I like the thank you for a job well and quickly executed.  That definitely plays a part in my desire to turn my work over right away.

But I think there is something deeper at work here.  By holding back some of my work, I am saying, “The speed and quality with which I executed this is a fluke.  I am not really this good.”  I’m setting a lower standard of excellence for myself, and I am assuming I am going to decline.  I don’t want to make that assumption.  I want to say, “I did a good job on this, and I am going to do a better job on the next task.”  If the reward for a job well done is a bigger job, then bring it on.  I want the bigger job.  I want the harder job.  I want the challenge of working on tight deadlines, and I want to keep setting the bar for my own accomplishments higher and higher.

I like to believe that by doing this, I’m banking something more than work I am holding in reserve.  I like to believe I’m banking trust, and value, and goodwill.  And I think that will carry me through more difficult times than a few pieces of code I’m withholding.

(As for the blog, I’m going to keep trying.  The queue starts growing today.)

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