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February 14, 2006

GTD 2006.32: Known and Unknown Tasks

There's a very specific type of task you need to handle in GTD as carefully as a ticking time bomb: the task where you think you know how long it should take, but you don't know for sure how long it will take.

Here's a couple of recent things I thought I knew how long they would take, but did not:

  • Creating a Movable Type Blog (I know TypePad, so I should know how long this takes...)
  • Combining a blog with a traditional web site (I know TypePad and how to build a web site, so I should know how long it would take...)
  • Converting a Movable Type blog to a WordPress blog. (I know MT, I know html and php, I should know how long it would take...)
  • Deploying an ASP 2.0/SQL Server Express web application to a client's server. (I don't know how long it will take, but the demos made it look so easy.)

The common theme amongst these types of tasks is 1) they're online, 2) various forms of marketing hype and demos made it look easy, 3) I didn't have recent personal experience doing this task.

Programmers get caught holding this particular time (pun intended) bomb all the time: you think it's going to take say X hours to gabberize a widget because you know how to paderac a widget and you've seen the demos, and they did it in just Y minutes and the next thing you know you've spent 20X hours.

Any programmer can tell you their own horror stories substituting their programming language for "gabberize" and "paderac"; the point is the more of your life you spend online, the more you become a programmer. (Even if it's "application programming" like setting up gmail effectively rather than "true programming")

So, today's GTD tip's bottom line: keep an wary eye out for tasks that you think are like something you know how to do, but could hold nasty, unknown surprises.
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Comments

[Posted by request...]

This Blog post is but one small fraction of the overall nightmare. The bigger nightmare is when you're on a schedule that is controlled by someone else, who follows the same thought process outlined in the article, and is incapable of understanding that gabberizing and paderacing are two different things... and that just because the sales demos make it look easy then you (me), the tech, should be able to handle it just as easily.

Yeah, right.

The demo, done by someone who is enormously familiar with the environment, someone who has either created the environment, or who has worked with the team creating it, someone who has practised the demo umpteen times in order to get the demo to look smooth for precisely this sales task.

Reality is someone like me, someone unfamiliar with that particular environment (probably), unfarmiliar with the new technique, trying to get the gabberization process working on our code which wasn't necessarily designed for gabberizing in the first place, trying to not break the paderac code at the same time. Oh, and there's no documentation.

Been there, done that, still doing it from time to time, but getting better at slapping 'em down.

Oh. My. God.

I never even thought of vetting NA's like this, but having lived through the time-suck nightmare of moving from TypePad to WP, I know you are right. Even after studying up and allowing extra time for being a non-supergeek, it still took days longer than I expected.

Maybe the online thing is the common denominator; maybe it's the "a little knowledge" phenom. All I know is, I'm way more cautious about planning for tasks I've never actually executed before. Good GTD tenet to keep in mind.

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