The Problem with Tasks

Problems are fun. Problems are like puzzles. They present a challenge to be overcome. Problems stir up the competitive instinct and allow really quite obsessive degrees of focus to be brought to bear on them until they capitulate. The challenge and reward of solving a problem is why many developers will happily spend 30 minutes writing code to automate a 15 minute task and consider it time well spent.

The problem with problems is that they are hard to put on a plan. Project managers would probably rather turn all problems into tasks. Problems are undisciplined, and sometimes called ‘risks’. Tasks are safe, measurable, definite and look good on a gantt chart. To many developers, unfortunately, tasks are dull, repetitive and tedious. The same developer who could bring scarily intense levels of dedication to bear for hours at a stretch in order to solve a thorny problem might well struggle to concentrate for the 15 minutes needed to perform a routine task and will probably spend an hour or so in displacement activity while working on it, not because they’re lazy (they just spent 4 hours solving a problem without taking a break or even, quite possibly, blinking), but because they can’t make their brain engage.