The next step and the cleared canvas

Knowing the next step is a pretty good feeling. The uncertainty of where you should next place your foot is somewhere between unnerving and terrifying. But if you’ve got an idea of how to proceed, you can learn something. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong. It’s the step that counts, not so much where you end up.

I just finished reading the RSpec book. It’s a really nicely done book. It does a great job striking a balance between conveying the philosophy of BDD and outside-in development with teaching the tools that Cucumber, RSpec, and Webrat give you when applying that approach to building, delivering, and iterating on software.

What I’m finding most useful about applying those approaches is that I know what the next step is. There’s always a missing piece right in front of me. Sometimes its a big thing, a feature-sized piece. Other times it’s smaller, a pending spec or a refactoring calling out to me. I’m never in the dark, which is important and useful to me.

On a whim, I decided to start doing the “always keep your email inbox empty” thing. I have always been aggressive about making sure everything is read, and I got pretty strict about deleting stuff I’ll never need to look at ever again. But now, I file things away (mostly into a shovebox) once I’m done with some email.

This is a big deal. It’s easy for me to look at my emails and figure out if there is something I’ve let slide. If there isn’t, I can proceed to doing more interesting things. It’s pretty great.

This week, I made a point to “clear the decks” regularly. If I haven’t listened to a podcast, read something in Instapaper, or scanned feeds after a few days, I shove it away. So I can my check email and OmniFocus lists to make sure I didn’t miss anything I wanted or need to do. Then I make awesome things. In the evening, I clear out my reading lists in Instapaper and Reeder. I don’t feel like I’m always behind. This, too, is pretty great.

It’s really easy to let all the reverse chronologically sorted lists we allow into our lives dominate our routines. Clearing those lists makes it easy to see what the next step is and get on with learning interesting things and making awesome stuff.

Adam Keys @therealadam