This is the third article from the series "Tips from The Clean Coder". Here we gathered and summarized the main tips from the third chapter.
Say. Mean. Do.
There are three parts to making a commitment:
- You say you'll do it.
- You mean it.
- You actually do it.
There are very few people who, when they say something, they mean it and then actually get it done. There are some who will say things and mean them, but they never get it done. And there are far more people who promise things and don't even mean to do them. Ever heard someone say "Man, I really need to lose some weight", and you knew they are not going to do anything about it? It happens all the time.
Why do we keep getting that strange feeling that, most of the time, people aren't really committed to getting something done?
Worse, often out intuition can fail us. Sometimes we'd like to believe someone really means what they say when they really don't.
Instead of trusting our guts, we can use some language-related tricks to try and figure out if people really mean what they say. And by changing what we say, we can start taking care of steps 1 and 2 of the previous list on our own.
Here are some examples of words and phrases to look for that are telltale signs of noncommitment:
- Need/should: "We need to get this done", "I need to lose weight", "Someone should make that happen".
- Hope/wish: "I hope to get this done by tomorrow", "I wish I had time for that".
- Let's (not followed by "I..."): "Let's meet sometime", "Let's finish this thing".
As you start to look for these words you'll see that you start spotting them almost everywhere around you, and even in things you say to others. You'll find we tend to be very busy not taking responsibility for things.
What's common in the phrases above is that they either assume things are out of "my" hands or then don't take personal responsibility. In each of these cases, people behave as if they were victims of a situation instead of in control of it.
The real truth is that you, personally, ALWAYS have something that's under your control, so there is always something you can fully commit to doing.
The secret ingredient to recognize real commitment is to look for sentences that sound like this: I will... by... (example: I will finish this by Tuesday.)
What's important about this sentence? You're starting a fact about something YOU will do with a clear end time. You're not talking about anyone else but yourself. You're talking about an action that you will take. You won't "possibly" take it, or "might get to it"; you will achieve it.
You said you'll do it and now only a binary result is possible: you either get it done, or you don't.
That's the start of commitment. Putting yourself in the situation that forces you to do something.
You've changed the language you use to a language of commitment, and that you will help you to get through the next two stages: meaning it, and following through.
Here are a number of reasons you might not mean it, or follow-through, with some solutions.
It wouldn't work because I rely on person X to get this done
You can only commit to things that you have full control of. For example, if your goal is to finish a module that also depends on another team, you can't commit to finish the module with full integration with the other team. But you can commit to specific actions that will bring you to your target.
It wouldn't work because I don't really know if it can be done
If it can't be done, you can still commit to actions that will bring you closer to the target. Finding out if it can be done can be one of the actions to commit to!
It wouldn't work because sometimes I just won't to make it
That happens. Something unexpected might happen, and that's life. But you still want to live up to expectations. In that case, it's time to change the expectations, as soon as possible.
If you can't make your commitment, you must raise a red flag as soon as possible to whoever you committed to. If you don't tell anyone about the potential problem, you're not giving anyone a chance to help you follow through on your commitment.
Professionals are not required to say yes to everything that is asked of them. However, they should work hard to find creative ways to make "yes" possible. When professionals say yes, they use the language of commitment so that there is no doubt about what they've promised.