The other night I was watching Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer, with my wife. There was this completely obnoxious poodle like mutt that would literally freak out over stupid crap like the toaster popping out toast. All I could think is I would shoot that dog if it lived in my house. Anyhow, Cesar pulled the dog into the kitchen and put the toaster in it’s face and popped toast over and over. The dog very quickly started shaking and then became TOTALLY calm. Big deal. Right?
Then Cesar explained to the dog owner what was happening. He stated that the dog was extremely anxious, fearful and stressed over the toaster and that was why it was going crazy. duh! Then he said something that seemed profound. He said by forcing the dog to focus on being submissive and still that it was expending an enormous amount of energy (thus the shaking). This expenditure of energy then put the dog in a state of calm there by relieving the fear, stress and anxiety. I’m no doggie psychologist, but I found it interesting.
Okay, Okay how the hell does this have anything do with me? I noticed recently that developers have similar problems. Whether it be velocity concerns, deadlines, poor acceptance criteria or something else that is preoccupying their mind, they can get fearful, stressed and ultimately produce enough anxiety to not be able to effectively do the work at hand. I find that in agile we have a principle of time boxing. I believe that by time boxing things like releases, iterations/sprints, stories and even tasks that like the dog fearing the toaster it allows us to be focused on something other than our fear for long enough to produce a calm.
I find that developers that are disciplined in time boxing appear to be much less stressed about the work, deadlines and projects that they are engaged in. I don’t believe they are better developers or even have less to be anxious about. They simply have learned a technique that allows them to almost be meditative in what they are doing, so much so that everything outside that focus disappears. When I hear about energized work, sustainable pace and satisfied developers I think of calm and peaceful attitudes.
The next time you are in code freak out mode. Time box it. Put your focus only on the immediate problem at hand and do so in increments of 25 minutes or less. See if you don’t become more calm. I would love to find out if there are chemical or scientific studies to back up the theory that focus produces a calming effect. What do you think?