Whilst working at my last agency, I received an excellent piece of advice from the then Lead Developer: “A web development task never takes *just* 5 minutes”.
Why this is true
All those small jobs, like changing one line of copy on a web-page, or sending an email only take 5 minutes of your time so they’re not worth charging for.
This attitude, in a lot of cases, couldn’t be more wrong, when you stop and think about the actions you’re taking, you quickly realise that no task ever takes only 5 minutes – rather everything takes at least 20.
Hearing this nugget of wisdom instantly woke me up and made me realise I’d simply been saying ‘yes‘ to every seemingly small request because these requests appeared so minuscule but what I hadn’t realised was the impact these tasks were having on my workflow.
The parts of a small task
Let’s break a small task down so we can see what’s involved in an average ‘5 minute task’.
- You: busy working on your current task
- Client/boss: asks for a small 5 minute task to be done (that is irrelevant to your current task)
- You: find out about task, locate the files/FTP details/etc, make the change (takes 5 minutes), check it on the test/local site, upload the changed file via FTP and check on the live site
- You: inform client/boss that the work is done
- You: go back to previous task: realise you’ve lost your train of thought
- You: go and get another coffee and repeat the cycle
Sure the actual task does only take 5 minutes, it may even take less but you can easily get distracted from what you were doing and sometimes getting back on track can be harder than you expect.
The solution is to simply be a bit wiser about these small requests. Professionals in other industries don’t always take the same approach us web developers do to these trivial tasks. For example, if you had a leaky tap would you expect a plumber to come to your house immediately and fix it for free because it’s such a small task. Of course you wouldn’t, because the plumber would have to drop his other jobs, drive round to your house, fix the tap (which would only take 5 minutes) and then drive home again.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?