Why you shouldn’t pull heroics to finish projects…

Swizec Teller
Jul 16, 2018 · 5 min read

Yay! She finished that project on deadline! 🎉

Yeah, but did she pull heroics to do it? Long nights, early mornings, lunch at her desk?

I dunno, why?

Because you’re about to give her the next project. How’s her energy?

NOTE: This is a cross-post from my newsletter. I publish each email two weeks after it’s sent. Subscribe to get more content like this earlier right in your inbox! 💌

Here’s why you shouldn’t pull heroics to finish projects

Did you watch the World Cup final? It was a great game.

For the first 38 minutes.

Croatia came on hard pressuring the French, never letting go of the ball. The French were great but looked frustrated.

The first goal went to France from a free kick of some sort. Someone pulled on someone’s shirt or kicked their shins and sportsball stuff happened.

A few minutes later, Croatia tied with a beautiful goal. Things were heating up. Bars the world over going crazy. The energy was palpable.

Then Croatia did a stupid. Their star shooter guy slapped the ball with his hand. Worked great, ball missed the goal by an inch.

But France was awarded a penalty kick. No handball in football.

2–1 for France

And Croatia’s game changed. You could see that the energy got sucked out of the team. They were less aggressive, they took more risks, and they pulled stupid stunts.

Frustrated as hell. 2–1 against France in the finals with half the game behind you? That’s almost insurmountable.

Fighting is hard when it feels like you can’t win.

For the first 38 minutes, Croatia was playing their best, giving it their all. France was taking it easy. Players looked fresher and less sweaty.

Come halftime the stats were something like this:

Ball possession: France 32% — 68% Croatia

Shots on goal: France 1–7 Croatia

Goals: France 2–1 Croatia

Croatia was playing harder. France was more effective.

What happened after halftime? France scored 2 goals in 15 minutes.

You can still tie from 2–1, maybe. You can’t do shit from 3–1. Then 4–1 happens because you’re just not paying attention anymore, and you can’t be bothered because fuck this shit, it’s hopeless anyway.

After 4–1, France slowed down, too. No sense risking injury after you’ve won and all your kickers have made their resume-building World Cup finals goals.

Croatia scored a meager goal. France didn’t even bother to defend. There was no joy in the shooter’s face. No celebration. Just a “fuck you guys, we’re still here.” 4–2

Croatia kept trying. A little feebly. Just a little too low energy. Ball spending a tiiiiny bit too much time on their side of the pitch. When they tried to score, they missed by just a little.

France was playing an aggressive sort of defense. Not really trying to score, but not letting Croatia get anywhere near the goal either.

This happens a lot in sports

The underdog comes in, fists flying, giving it their all. Their only hope: To show fierce determination early on, build a score, get momentum, survive until the end.

The experienced teams counter by biding their time. Let the underdog tire themselves out, then clean up in the latter half.

Muhammad Ali employed this rope-a-dope strategy beautifully against George Foreman in 1974. Leaning against the ropes, he was able to take direct punches from the world’s strongest puncher giving it his all. The sort of punches that would kill a normal human with a single blow.

Yet, Ali was able to take it, frustrating Foreman until Foreman had no more to give. Then Foreman lost.

Or take Mike Tyson, for example. He steamrolled through his opponents in the first 5 rounds. Destroyed them with his devastating punches.

But the first time someone made it to round 6, Tyson lost.

Go hard, but be sure you win before you slow

World Cup games, boxing matches, and engineering projects are all long, grueling marathons. Not sprints.

Football players run 7 to 8 miles in their 90-minute game. Boxers throw hundreds of punches in a 45-minute fight. Engineers build hundreds, even thousands, of features before a product reaches maturity, product-market fit, and prints enough money for all to enjoy.

When you feel like you gotta work all night, work through lunch, and avoid breaks to make your deadline… Go for it! Just be aware of what happens next.

After this feature, do you…

  • take a few days off?
  • focus on easy tasks?
  • switch to mentoring interns for a bit?
  • try to do more code review?

Or do you (or your PM/boss/manager) take the next big project and go full steam right ahead?

Hard work now borrows hard work from the future.

You can keep going hard for a long time, but sooner or later, it catches up. Little mistakes creep into your work. Small things you should’ve caught turn into big production bugs. You’re just a little too snarky for your own good.

Little things: they pile up.

And when you’re tired and exhausted and have no more to give, what happens when a critical make-or-break-your-team feature comes along?

In other news…

Learn While You Poop is going great! Getting new features and building some cool content.

The Learn While You Poop — State model now covers both Redux and Mobx in their entirety. There’s work left on the in-depth articles but I’m getting there.

Also, we still need a notification system for subscribers. 🤔

Either way, here’s a writeup on some of the wonderful things people built while going through my intern vetting process. 👇

Also, my We Are Developers talk is online in full 🎉

A few cool things…

Here’s a few cool things I dug up this week…

Cheers,

~Swizec


P.S. If you like this, make sure to subscribe, follow me on Twitter, buy me lunch, and share this with your friends 😀

Swizec Teller

Written by

A geek with a hat, author of Why programmers work at night, React+D3v4 and others

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