Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On the Journey of Productivity and Excellence

It was my junior year in college.  I will never forget the lesson.

I did something that solidified one of my life principles: Leverage.

At Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado I took an algorithms class and the major assignment was to create visualizations of sorting routines as they ran.   The idea was to start with a list of few hundred names and then create a plot on the screen that showed how they moved from chaos to order during every step of the process.

As a visual person I loved seeing the graphics on the screen move as each piece of the puzzle fell into place.  It was like Neo in The Matrix … seeing the patterns and knowing that they made sense.

Every few class periods the professor would assign a new algorithm to the process.  Near the end of semester, the professor assigned the grand finale:

Pull all the sort algorithms together and create a single application so that you can upload a single set of data and interactively select any algorithm and watch it run.  The application should return to the main menu and allow a person to again select another algorithm and watch it run.  Rinse and repeat.

There was lots of groaning throughout the class.  Many people anticipated weeks of spaghetti code combined into one big pasta dish that would turn out looking like ten different Italian dishes run through a blender.

Earlier in the semester I figured out I could design a common interface for all the algorithm projects and reuse it for each subsequent assignment.  After all, I’d have to test all the projects, so why not use a common interface and automate the test.

The final project was completed in a few days and it took me very little effort.
A few hours of good design resulted in an easy semester of programming and an even easier final project.  

The professor pulled me aside after he finished grading the final project and he said, “I really liked how you wrote that project.  If I were a software company, I would hire you.”  I thought that was pretty cool.
Putting my 20 year-old elation aside, the real lesson I learned was how to maximize my Leverage.  

Thoroughly understanding the problem creates Leverage.

Good planning creates Leverage.  

Leverage allows you to do something once and have it work for you over and over.

It’s perhaps a little cliche, but Archimedes said it right, 
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Leverage is a tool available to everyone.  Like any craftsman, you must explore and practice to find the one that works for you. Here are my Productivity levers…
Every year I re-read or re-listen to these books to refresh myself on the concepts and practical tips for a successful life.  Like a ship constantly adjusting its course on a long journey, the principles and practices found in these books help me navigate the ocean of life and reach islands of success throughout my journey.

What is your #1 productivity lever? Please leave a comment about either your biggest productivity challenge or your biggest productivity lever?