Op-Ed: Going Slow Makes Fast

Disclaimer: The following works for me, since I work part-time as a freelancer. This does (unfortunately) not work for all situations.

The story happened a few years ago:

I’ve been sitting on a complex problem for some time. I couldn’t crack it. Usually, I try to find elegant solutions, simple solutions. This problem was “uncrackable”. At some point I gave up finding an elegant solution:

“It’s just a complex problem and I can only solve it by working hard.” 

My plan was to work hard, grind away and somehow survive UAT. I knew, the solution would work, would satisfy the client but not be elegant in any way.  The underlying concept would be a mess of ideas, features and concepts.

For a couple of weeks, I put more and more hours into the problem, hoping to solve it brute-force.

Short story: It did kind of work. The tickets slowly moved to “done”, but the solution became stranger and stranger. It felt like an unconnected mess of features and not like a coherent solution that provides business value.

I got more and more frustrated with the solution and myself. At some point, I gave up “on working hard”.

I just stepped away and went back to my usual lazy way of working:

After a walk in the morning, I worked at the problem for an hour, got the kitchen clean, went for the gym, took a loooong nap after lunch and finally worked on the problem for three hours in the late afternoon.

And you know what, I made more progress in these three hours in the late afternoon than in weeks before! Not just relative, absolut progress.

So what changed? 
I became happy and relaxed. When I’m stressed, I just want to get the ticket done. No left, no right, just brute force my way through it.  I become stiff, inflexible, even rude at times.

But when I’m happy, when I’m relaxed, when ideas have a place to breathe solutions can grow, can become elegant

I should not, under no circumstances sacrifice long-term “happiness” for short-term productivity.  While there might be the need for a week or two of “sprints”, for default I need to be working in a relaxed way. Everything else leads to suboptimal solutions for my client and in the end for me.

PS: I’ve no idea how these 60+ hours per week people survive or get any good solutions out there. Maybe I’m just not cut for it.