Friday, January 15, 2010

Do, Delegate, Defer

Today's column is by Emma Jane Hogbin. She writes:

I am a process junkie. If you've ever worked with me you'll know how good, and how bad, this can be. I want to know how things are going to be sorted and which system I should be tracking bugs and feature requests into. I crave order in a world that can be incredibly chaotic. A few weeks ago I was chatting with my Mary Kay lady about helping to get people organized. There's only one thing that's more exciting that sorting my own stuff: helping others to sort theirs. Books like Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss excite and motivate me. The DIY Planner is a honey pot of templates and articles and ideas.

Whether you're using a top-down or bottom-up methodology, being productive means deciding what you need to do, and then doing it. Right? If you're used to the open source approach to scratching your own itch this is probably exactly how you tackle your business and perhaps your open source contributions. The busier you get, the longer your TODO list gets and suddenly you're not getting anything done because you've become paralysed by the incredible amount of work that needs to be done.

This is where productivity systems really shine: they remind you that you can't possibly accomplish everything in a single day. Being productive isn't just about having a TODO list, it's about having a processing system which helps you to determine what tasks you should be doing when. Let's break that down into three pieces:

  • what tasks...

  • you should be doing...

  • when

In other words:

  • do

  • delegate

  • defer

At OSCON last year, Kirrily Roberts's keynote addressed Dreamwidth's approach to new contributors. All contributions, no matter how small, are celebrated. Although her talk focused on gender, the commitment to helping all people work on all tasks has been poking the back of my brain ever since. In her description of the community, Kirrily talked about how all contributors will take the time to help anyone that needs help. In fact, providing help seems to be a higher priority than Getting Things Done. Does it seem highly inefficient to you too? I may be idealizing the community, but let's just run with it for now.

Free and open source software (FOSS) is a do-ocracy. Anyone can scratch their own itch. We can all contribute and pitch in and Do Things so that stuff Gets Done. But if we're all busy Doing Things we miss two thirds of the productivity process. We miss the opportunity to Delegate and Defer tasks that others can do.

If you started as a part-time open source contributor and are now running your own FOSS business, the chances are very good that you're stuck in do-ocracy mode. I know that I'm horrible about getting help on the little tasks that Dreamwidth would set aside and leave for others to work on. I book my own flights. I make my own brochures. I do things that other people can do better and faster than me, but I'm stuck in the do-ocracy. When other business owners chastise me, I feel like the kid in the pull-ups diaper commercial who sings, "I'm a big kid now!" while I pull up my nappies.

Even though I'm not a New Years Resolution kind of person, I am resolving this year to apply the productivity principles Do, Delegate, Defer not only to my own business but also to my open source projects. Instead of focusing on only what I can do, I will spend time to create self-sustaining processes so that others can contribute at all levels of the projects I work with.

Are you ready to get more done this year by delegating more tasks? I hope you'll join me in this New Years Resolution.

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