At the beginning of the year, I saw a blog post from Adam Yuret explaining how he planned to sit down and read "Agile Testing". He's blogged before about having difficulty staying on track to finish most books, so I was interested to see how he'd planned to reach his goal - "Agile Testing" is a bit of a behemoth of a book, 500+ pages. I haven't finished it yet myself, so that added a bit of additional interest for me. :)
I decided this was definitely an idea worth stealing, and promptly nicked it for the Software Testing Book Review club. Then, a couple of hours ago, Phil Kirkham posted a comment. Public resolutions don't work. Oops.
At this point I should confess that I had come across the idea that going public with a resolution can actually give you some of the same satisfaction that completing it does - thus reducing your motivation to complete it, though I'd never got around to reading further about it. But it seemed to have been working for Adam, and I could see Michael Larsen going great guns with his 40 day Boot Camp. So I figured it was worth a go... but then Phil came along with that comment, just as I was having to admit that, enjoyable and short though it is, I hadn't completed my own Bold Boast.
That's right - although I should have been able to finish Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think", I'm actually only 85 pages in (though I've skimmed ahead). I could make various feeble excuses - it's all Rosie's fault - she distracted me with an online chat about usability on Thursday! It's all James Christie's fault - he mentioned his MSc thesis on the chat and so I ended up reading that on the train Friday instead of "Don't Make Me Think"! Now, while both the chat and James's thesis were both things I wouldn't have wanted to miss, and I learnt a lot about usability this week - I still didn't finish the book.
So, getting distracted yet again, I decided I'd better go check out the final paper mentioned on the blog:
It's pretty interesting. To give a wildly inaccurate and deliberately partial summary (don't trust me! Go check it yourself! Link's right there!), it seems that when you're committed to an identity goal such as "I want to be a great tester!", then while accomplishing a goal like reading a testing book may increase your feelings of being a "good tester", it's also possible to get some of that warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment and identity boost by *talking* about your plans to read it, and having other people notice that. And the effect appears limited to people who have a strong commitment to achieving a particular identity.
Curses. I can see some problems with this. :) Naturally, I want to be able to talk about stuff - because one important way of getting better for me is to allow myself venues where I can make mistakes in front of my peers, thus giving me the greatest chance that someone will take the time to point out my errors/offer an alternative approach, so I can learn something new and move on. But I also don't want talking the talk to become a substitute for walking the walk. (Okay - this saying is muddied a little here by the fact that writing about testing is in itself practising a number of skills relevant to testing. But I won't get into that here).
I've also noticed another behavioural trait in myself, that is likely to amplify this effect: namely, the more important a goal is to me, and the more pressure I put on myself to complete it and the more I push, the more likely I am to seek reasons to avoid doing it or just end up with complete brainlock if forced into a corner. There are actually things I've been planning to learn for ages, that I'm not tackling, simply because by now the only way to approach them is to let them lie fallow for a while then sneak up on them sideways so I don't trigger that OMG REALLY IMPORTANT GOAL! brainlock. So, just raising the stakes won't help me to learn here.
So, what to do?
The conclusions section of the paper gives several suggestions for possible ways in which you might be able to counteract that effect: I think what Adam did seemed to be an effective tactic:
1) He sat down and read for a while to work out:
a) how long he could maintain concentration for without getting distracted or losing focus
b) how many pages he had read in that time
2) He then worked out how long it would take him to finish the book, if he committed that amount of time per day. Given that his "reading time" was about an hour, then it was a reasonable goal to fit into the day.
3) He committed to blogging his progress.
And given that it worked for him, perhaps it might work for me. So, let's see.
1) From what I've read so far, and knowing what I'm already committed to over the next week, I think I can probably safely bet on being able to read about 20 pages a night. I could do a bit more, but I'd like to be able to give myself some time to think them through and take a few notes on things that seem particularly relevant.
2) I've got about 100 pages left. That means I should finish on Friday the 28th of January.
3) I'll blog on Friday night, either to say "I'm done!" or "Er... still have X pages to go :( " If it was a longer period, I'd say I'll blog mid way, but that seems a bit overkill here. Perhaps I'm wrong - we'll see.
I'm hoping this will work, this time around. My original BBB was a bit vague around when I'd finish. I also didn't actually work out how much I'd need to read to stay on track, so a few days missed meant I didn't really feel I was behind. And I didn't commit to blogging when I crossed the finish line. I'll see if those things seem to help this time.
Want to join me in the experiment? Can we figure out together what will work?
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