Feb 152010
 

Doing nothing is harder than it looks. As a developer I sometimes found it hard to understand what on earth my boss did all day. In fact the better the boss, the less they seemed to do.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in charge of other developers, it quickly became apparent that doing nothing was actually quite a challenge. Try as I might something always came up, and I found myself doing something, which as previously mentioned was not a good sign. It turns out that doing nothing is pretty much a full time job, and I’ve put together some tips on how best to achieve it. Now bear with me, some of these activities do technically involve doing something, but if you are careful not to get caught no one will ever know.

  • Anticipate rather than react.

In some senses dashing in to save the day at the last minute is exciting, all the more so if your hair happens to be on fire at the time. However, there is no surer way to appear to be doing something than by intervening in this way. It is much better to notice that something will need to be done ahead of time and to act before anyone else notices that you are doing anything at all. This does mean that you will need to be constantly on the lookout for things that need doing before anyone else notices, however it is a small price to pay for doing nothing.

  • Maintain relationships outside of the team.

Occasionally, despite your best attempts at anticipating problems, your the team will get blocked and require some action on your part to resolve the matter. This is a dangerous situation since if they have nothing to do they are more likely to notice that you are in fact doing something. Therefore you need to act quickly. At this point it’s important to know the right person to talk to and what’s more have a pre-existing relationship with them. That way it will appear that you are just having a nice chat rather than actually doing something.

  • Big visible task boards.

A sure way to get caught doing something is by having your team ask you about what to do next, you can easily get around this by delegating the responsibility to a whiteboard. That’s right you can use an inanimate object to replace a previously essential function. To make this work, it does mean that you may need to do some planning ahead of time, it might even mean talking to more commercially minded folk on the other side of the office but nobody ever said that doing nothing would be easy.

  • Team collaboration

The more time the team spend working together, sharing ideas and learning form one another the less time they have for catching you doing something.

  • Small incremental changes

If you must be seen to make a change, at least be sure that it feels like a natural progression and sensible to all, that way your doing something won’t be as obvious. Once the change has been made, it is critical that you resist the temptation to tinker, not only will tinkering make it more likely that you will be spotted doing something, you’ll never learn what effect your change brought about, which means you might miss out on discovering new ways to do nothing.

  • Inspect and Adapt

Further to the previous section why not ask the team themselves to contribute ideas in order to refine their working practices, this way you can actively do nothing in their presence.

  • Hire great people

Unfortunately there is no getting around this one, while there are plenty of excellent guides available (1,2,3), sadly all of them advocate that you do something. However since it is likely that much of the process will occur in an interview room you can at least hide the fact that you are doing something. You may also find that you spend much of the time listening which can be easily be mistaken for doing nothing.

  • Commit to personal development

It’s much easier to do nothing when your team comprises of highly skilled geniuses. By working hard to consider the needs of all team members you can help them approach highly skilled genius status thereby reducing the need for you to do things. Over time you may even find that they appreciate taking on greater responsibility, further reducing instances where you will appear to be doing something.

Finally, having assembled and developed a great team, don’t blow it all by checking up on them every forty five minutes, just stand back and do nothing for a bit.

  4 Responses to “How to do Nothing”

  1. Genius article, really enjoyed it!

  2. Neilj, excellent article … I took a few moments and write an entire response article for a recent post on my blog: http://bit.ly/dzRqfX

  3. @jfbauer Hah, interesting. Will take a look.

  4. [...] read Neil’s “How to do Nothing” blog article on the topic of effective management back when I first discovered his blog earlier [...]

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