I enjoy woodworking as a hobby and as I try new things I find that my work habits during the learning stage tend towards chaotic and I wind up with stuff every where. Part of that is just enthusiasm, wanting to move ahead and do stuff, part of it struggling so hard to master ideas and techniques that I wind up with tunnel vision. That often leaves me with tools, notes, and everything else stacked all over the place.
It’s a pattern I see in beginners with SQL too. They are intensely focused on syntax, trying to map how it works to whatever tool set they used before, and the early work is rough. As they begin to get over that first bit of learning curve they can then start to think about how do more interesting things.
You could call it lack of discipline and that’s true to an extent. On my new projects I need to slow down, clean up more often, try to see which tools I’m really done with and can put away. But it’s also true that I often don’t know when I’m done with a tool. Maybe I think I’ve done the final drilling, but then I find I missed something, or drilled a hole in the wrong place!
Many years ago I worked with an engineer that was meticulous about his work environment. He laid out a set of 8 pencils and pens in a certain way, had his log just so, and as he worked he would pickup a pen, use it, and then put it back in the right place. At the time I didn’t entirely appreciate the discipline it requires to build good habits, even if I still tend to think that one was a bit much.
Another story from even further back, I had a co-worker who drove a car that didn’t have the now entirely common warning buzzer if you left your headlights on. He had devised his own system; each time he turned the headlights on he took a clothespin from the ashtray and put it on the door handle, that way there was no way he could (reasonably!) exit without noticing the clothespin and that would cue him to turn off the lights and put the clothespin back on the ashtray. It worked well enough, though sometimes it did seem like a man that could do that every time could just as easily remember to run through a mental checklist each time he turned off the car.
For me, I find it’s easier to build bad habits than good ones, and probably true of most people. Good habits require you to make a continuing investment of energy that doesn’t seem to have a clear pay back. It’s also important to remember that while we might have good work habits on something we do all the time, we may have to build those habits on something new – think starting to use SSIS if you’re new to it.