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The Curse and the Blessing of Arbitrary Deadlines

The organization that I work for has a fiscal year. I dare
say the organization that you work for has one too. For us, it runs from April
1st to March 31st.

Each year around March there’s a mad rush to get work items
completed, closed out and signed off before March 31. Everyone is running
around like chickens with their heads cut off, and this bothers me hugely. Why
is this largely arbitrary line in the sand so important? Are our accounting practices
so deficient that we can’t deal with a body of work that crosses this boundary?
(Hint: no, they’re not). Nobody has ever been able to adequately explain it to
me because, I suspect, there is no adequate answer.

image

To add to my frustration with this situation, I have in the
past experienced a distinct and noticeable lull in my workload in April. The
nature of what I do is such that there’s often definition and even planning
required of others before work lands on my plate, and if this effort doesn’t
start until April 1st then I will have nothing to do until at least
the middle of the month. So tell me again why I tore all my hair out trying to
get everything I was working on complete by the end of March?

In fairness, I’m exaggerating the picture I’m painting here
and in recent years my team especially and my organization generally have
become much better at this. Nevertheless, it illustrates my point: arbitrary
deadlines are very much a pet peeve of mine and you don’t just find them at year
end, they’re everywhere – from the project completion date that was estimated
before anybody understood the effort required but somehow became set in stone,
to the two hour meeting that somehow fills exactly two hours even though, upon
reflection, there was only 50 minutes of valuable content (that’s the opposite issue
to the chicken-with-its-head-cut-off scenario, but the same root cause).

Thinking back over the past couple of days, however, it
occurs to me that I may be a massive hypocrite.

I’ll be away from the office next week. Actually, I’ll be
away beginning at about lunchtime tomorrow, but the specifics are unimportant
and I digress.

Over the last couple of days I have been extraordinarily productive. Seriously,
it’s been amazing. I have amazed myself. Things are getting completed, closed
off and delivered all over the place. Why? Because there’s going to be a few
days where I’m not around and I don’t want any of these little outstanding
items to still be on my plate when I return or, worse, on my mind while I’m
away? I’m pretty confident in saying that in the normal course of things, if I
weren’t taking some time off, some of the smaller tasks would have sat
languishing at the bottom of my to-do list until well beyond the date when I
get back to the office. One or two of them, I suspect, I would quite literally never have been done

– I’d have just sat on
them until everyone else forgot that they were ever asked of me. So why,
really, has the arbitrary deadline of tomorrow at noon become so critical to me?
Don’t know. I can’t adequately explain it to you because, I suspect, there is
no adequate answer.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

  1. Why am I apparently not capable of this week’s
    extraordinary levels of productivity in a more typical week, where I don’t have
    a looming arbitrary deadline to contend with? I actually have a theory. I’ll
    post about it soon (but not by any particular arbitrary date. I only commit to
    those in my professional life).
     
  2. I’ve sucked those around me into my arbitrary
    deadline world too. I don’t work alone, I have teams that I work with. If set
    myself an arbitrary deadline for a task, let’s call it a, then that means I need others’ input and contribution by a-2, or end of day a-1 at the absolute latest, please. And low, the circle of arbitrary
    deadlines becomes self-sustaining and spreads across the land.

I hope those affected by #2 are also congratulating
themselves on this week’s extraordinary productivity, and I hope they enjoy the
distinct and noticeable lull in activity while I’m away without questioning it
too much. I hope they don’t take to the internet to bitch about it on their
blog, but if they do choose that path then that’s OK. There’ll be no hypocrisy
from me.

Shrapnel

Late Night Links – Sunday October 11th, 2015

Even though it’s a holiday weekend (happy thanksgiving!) and we’re in the midst of packing in preparation for moving in a few weeks, I still remembered to write late night links! I’m amazing.

And with that, we’re done for another week! See you all at the same time next week then, if I haven’t packed the internet connection equipment by then.

Blog

Chromecast Audio

On Tuesday I wrote about how I was very much un-wowed by
Google’s recently announced latest addition to the Nexus line of devices
, the
5X.

There was, however, something announced at last week’s
Google event that I was very excited about.

image

Meet the Chromecast audio.

Chromecast devices have been around for a little while now,
and they’re a USB-powered dongle that plugs into a spare HDMI port on your TV
and allows you to “cast” video from your phone to display it on the big screen.

The audio version follows a very similar concept. It’s also
powered by USB, but then it plugs into your existing stereo and allows you to “cast”
music to it from your phone.

You could argue that Bluetooth works just fine for doing
this – indeed we have a Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen for just this sort of
thing. Google tells us that a WiFi device can offer better sound quality than Bluetooth
is capable of and has some other benefits too, but I don’t care about any of
that.

What I’m excited about, is the possibility of whole home
audio. I built my
whole home audio system
from a collection of raspberry pis because I
thought the existing offerings in the marketplace didn’t offer good value.
Apparently Google agree.

The Chromecast audio won’t have whole home audio
functionality at launch, but apparently it’s coming in a future software
update. I for one am very excited about this.

The benchmark system for whole home audio is quite clearly Sonos – that’s the system against which all
others are measured. They have a product called the Connect which allows you take
a set of speakers you already own and, for want of a better term, make them “smart.”

The Chromecast does much the same thing, but for the price
of one Sonos Connect you could buy ten of them.

Blog

Thoughts on Google’s Nexus Event

If you weren’t aware, last Tuesday Google held a product
announcement event. This was very interesting to me, chiefly because of the new
Nexus phones that were being announced.

About two years ago I bought a Google Nexus 5, either on
launch day or shortly thereafter. I’m very glad that I did, it’s a fantastic
phone that’s still popular today, and it was about half the price of its
similarly-spec’d competitors. The important thing about the price was that it
changed the model under which I purchase smartphones: instead of getting them
deeply discounted or free through a carrier (providing I promise to stay with
them and not change my phone again for two years), I bought the phone outright.

I now have a phone plan that costs me $25 a month for
unlimited calls and texts, and 2gb of internet and the maximum speed my
provider can deliver (it gets throttled if I go over that limit, but even then
I don’t pay more). I got that deal precisely because I already owned my device,
and because I didn’t buy my phone from the carrier I’m not tied into a contract
with them either. If they were to choose to stop offering that kind of
excellent value then I can simply choose to go somewhere else.

Last year at Google’s annual Nexus event they announce the
Nexus 6, and it represents a significant mindset shift that I didn’t like. The
Nexus 5 focused on real-world performance and eschewed bleeding-edge components
in favour of offering superior value, but the 6 took the opposite approach. As
a result it was more money than I wanted to spend on a phone, and it also
followed the trend of flagship phones having huge (six inch) displays, putting
it mighty close to “phablet” territory. I don’t like this trend.

Others felt the same way and the Nexus 6 didn’t see nearly
the same success as the 5. That’s why I was so excited about last week’s event:
a return to the way of thinking that resulted in the Nexus 5 was anticipated,
and in fact many details of the Nexus 5X were leaked in advance.

As the event progressed I kept an eye on coverage of it from
a couple of my favourite sites, waiting to be wowed, but the wow moment never
came.

I think it’s because two years ago the thinking that led to
the creation of the Nexus 5 was outside the box, almost revolutionary. The idea
that a flagship device didn’t have to cost $1,000 was crazy. The model was so
successful though that other manufacturers have taken notice since then. OnePlus
and Motorola are two notable examples offering fantastic phones that are easy
on the wallet.

In retrospect, I don’t know what I wanted from Google. It
was the revolutionary nature of the Nexus 5 two years ago that blew my mind and
this time around I was looking for an evolution that also blew my mind. I got
my evolution, but of course my mind remains intact. It also doesn’t help that
the Canadian dollar is not performing as well against the U.S. dollar as it was
two years ago, so the value isn’t there to quite the same extent.

I will probably still buy myself a Nexus 5X. There’s a lot
to be said for the pure Android experience, the way that Google intended it
(along with immediate updates when new versions are released). What I was
hoping for is a phone that clearly offered a better value proposition than the
Moto X Play (which I believe to be the best value out there right now). The 5X
is a bit better, but also a bit more expensive. It’s a toss-up.

I do wish it had wireless charging though. If it weren’t for
that omission I’d never have gone on this rant.

Shrapnel

Late Night Links – Sunday October 4th, 2015

It’s Sunday night! Boo, work tomorrow, etc. But also late night links! Yay!

And we’re done! Until next time, internet.