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Work Habits

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.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by kuldip.bhatt on 27 August 2009

very nice article useful for new comers like me.

Posted by Steve Jones on 27 August 2009

I've heard it's 2-3 weeks to build a habit in something, and I think it's the dedication during that time to build it. Once you do so, you have to stick with it, at least until you find something better. I've gone towards the slow change thing where I'll stick with what works for a fairly long time in many areas of my life. If I decide to try something new, like reading on the Kindle, I'll do it only in one area of my life, giving it some time and investment to see if it works for me.

However you do have to be careful to not create too many habits that you spend all your time on routine, and not enough just getting things done.

Posted by John Sterrett on 31 August 2009

I remember the following quote from a job I had a long time ago.  "It takes few hours to learn a habit and a few weeks to correct a bad habit."

Posted by VALEK on 31 August 2009

John, I heard it from my primary school where I learnt how to write.

Also from my music school. The ones who play the piano or any other instrument know that once you learn something incorrectly (because of reading the music sheet wrongly or something like that), it's damn hard to teach yourself out of pressing the wrong key -- it's just coming out by itself!!!

My wife's typing job goes like this -- type whatever comes out of her head, then go through it and correct mistakes, then rephrase and then format the pages, paragraphs etc.

Mine -- prepare the page (basic formatting), think what to write, type... No wonder why her writing is horrible and she always needs my help in the end :)

Posted by jimg on 1 September 2009

I saw this on a sign.  It was attributed to Abraham Lincoln.  "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the ax"

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