Friday, January 11, 2008

Power of the Empty List

I generally work out of a series of lists. There are lists of bugs that are ready for QA, lists of stories that need acceptance, lists of tests that need to be automated, and emails in my inbox. This way everything I have to do is written down in at least one place. There are still a lot of lists, though, as I wrote about in an earlier blog entry. So how to handle it all?

The most efficient list is an empty list.

If I have a list with many items on it, I waste a lot of time going through the list. A simple example:

It takes 30 seconds, on average, to look at a bug and figure out what kind of test I need to do, if there's a question, if I'm waiting for a build, etc. If I have 50 bugs in my list, it takes 25 minutes just to figure out which bugs I can work on - and I have to do that every time I look at my list! So I only look at each bug once, and I put it into a different state depending on what the next action is. I've lost the 25 minutes, but only once. The incoming queue is then divided into several lists: "needs build X", "to answer", "test", etc. Each of those lists contain items for which I can either do all of them or none of them. Either way, I can now treat the list as a single item and save myself a lot of time.

Another example:
It takes about 60 seconds to look at an email and decide how to deal with it. I've seen people with thousands of emails in their Inboxes. At 60 seconds per read, it's no wonder people don't get much else done! So I deal with it as follows:
- if I can answer in under 5 minutes, I do it
- if it's informational, I file it (I use Lookout on Windows and Spotlight on the mac - searching later is easy if I really need to)
- if I can't deal with it, I put it on my calendar for a time when I will be able to deal with it, either because I'll have the information I need or because I'll have the time to handle the issue.
Every time I check mail, I try to get my inbox to 0, and I usually succeed. At most I'll have 10 or so emails in my inbox.

The less time you spend fussing with your work lists, the more time you have to work. So every time you look at a list, clear it out.

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