Panasonic Youth

Nothing to it but to do it

A guy in college I knew had a catch phrase he would say often, to the point of annoyance. Its stuck with me since then, and rings true all the time:

Nothing to it but to do it


Of course, I remember him saying this most often when embarking on a beer run, but thats besides the point. When faced with any sort of task or problem, the hardest part is getting started. Overcoming inertia and taking a step, even a tiny step, can be enough to break through and get moving.

Many developers, myself included, often hit two major issues when trying to get started: perfection, and mindless surfing.

Perfect example: recently I was working on moving my personal svn repository to a new, larger vps. I decided to look into the best method to serve the repository given my simple needs. Soon I soon had fifteen tabs open to discussions on svn+ssh vs webdav vs svnserve. I was reading the svn mailing list about performance and the latest release notes for svn. Next I was considering a distributed scm, like git, and maybe it was time to try migrating to a 21st centure scm? After maybe twenty minutes of spinning my wheels I stopped and said “What the hell am I doing? None of this stuff matters.”

The previous repository had worked fine, and for my small repository it would still be fine. I was obsessing over perfection instead of just doing the damn task I had set out to: move the repository to a new machine, shut off the old, and be done with it. Decisions are temporary, and I could always change things later if I really needed to. From there I ssh’ed in to my old box, started the dump, and soon I had checked a task off my list.

The dangers of mindless surfing are obvious, to nerds and non-nerds alike. There are an endless number of software solutions out there, but ultimately I find the best solution is the simplest. Set a time limit on mindless surfing, and have small, simple tasks lined up to help you get in the zone for bigger tasks. Iterate from the small tasks into the larger, more complex things. This is one thing that pair programming really helps – I guarantee if you pair for four hours a day you will start to trim down your blogroll and fall out of touch with the latest social networking memes – and thats a good thing.

Next time you are faced with a seemingly huge problem, take a five minute walk and get away from the screen. Review the smallest, simplest things you could do to get started. When you sit down, dive into those tasks and get moving. Nothing to it but to do it.