I’m actually not sure when I first noticed this. Perhaps it goes back to my teen years when I helped with the construction of our church building. Or, perhaps it was before that when I worked at a Christian camp. But there are some activites that seem to make everything else more productive.
I call these sweeping activities. Sweeping activities make it easy to get work done.
The idea is that these activities tend to somehow straighten out the work, make the goals concrete, and make it easier to get everything done.
As a father of 3 young children I spend a great deal of time in the evening picking up toys and straightening up around the house. There are times when the work seems to stretch on forever. I can find myself putting a toy back together, changing the batteries in a toy that is no longer working, carying dishes back to the sink, etc. But there is one activity that seems to make the work go even faster. It's sweeping the floor.
It might have something to do with the fact that in order to sweep the floor you have to do a number of things to make it possible. For instance, picking up toys, laundry, shoes, and other things scattered throughout the room. It might also involve clearing the table, so that crumbs can be wiped onto the floor where they will be collected when sweeping. If my goal is to sweep the floor suddenly it's obvious what I need to do in order to make that happen quickly.
The floor is also rarely swept all at once, but rather individual areas are "cleared" one at a time. First the area in front of the TV: toys are returned to their bins, trash is collected, dust is swept into a nice little pile and carried to the trash. Next the dinning table. Next the kitchen. One by one each area is completed all in the spirit of making sweeping easier.
Sweeping itself is not the goal, rather having a clean house is the goal. But sweeping makes having a clean house achievable.
It's useful to reflect on this in other domains. What are those activities that make it easy for work to come together quickly?
In software it can be any number of things. As a designer it's sketching out the core of a flow or writing out an outline for an idea. As a product person it can be cleaning up the backlog in preparation for the next phase of work. As a programmer maybe it's prototyping the interface between objects in code, writing that first test, or tidying up code.
Whatever your occupation, some activites make you more productive. What are those activities for you?