The 50-30-20 rule

Marcel introduced me to Steve Pavlina’s blog earlier this month. I’ve added Steve to my Google homepage, and read the posts that look most promising. Steve has some good food for thought, although I kind of doubt he’s going to convince me to go vegan.

Steve’s latest post is about the 50-30-20 rule. I can already tell this is going to spark some good thoughts and discussions between Jennie and me, and possibly at work too. It’s interesting just to think about which things fall into the three categories.

The full article is well worth a read. Go check it out now. I’ll wait. (Besides, the rest of this post won’t make much sense unless you at least know what the categories are.)

So at home, things like paying bills, doing laundry, doing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, etc., are C tasks: 90 days from now, they won’t really matter. We still have to do them or we’ll get in trouble, but they don’t have long-term effects. If all we do from now until retirement is wash dishes, we’re not going to have many happy memories to look back on. Things like watching TV and playing video games are also definitely C tasks.

My blog? Posting depends on the type of post; it’s probably a C most of the time, although I hope some of the OWL and Financial Peace posts fall closer to a B. Deleting comment spam is definitely a C. Working on the hamster (as I did this past weekend) is something that eliminates C tasks, so it’s squarely a B.

What about working on our budget? The exact details of next month’s budget won’t matter 90 days from now, but the effects of having done that budget are substantial; it’s saved our butts every month we’ve done it, because something big always comes up, and we always go back to the budget and find the money. (I still can’t quite believe it, and I don’t know how we do it, but it has worked every month.) It’s certainly been more than 90 days since we started budgeting, and we’re still feeling the effects from that first month. The budget is probably a B task, or even an A. (Hell, if we hadn’t started doing a budget, we’d probably have filed for bankruptcy by now. No joke. So there’s a serious case to be made for counting the budget as an A task.)

Spending time with Jennie could fall into any of the three categories. Eating on the bed and watching TV would be a C, I think. Eating out and talking? B, at least. Going for a walk together? Spending a quiet weekend in a motel somewhere? Again, B, at least; maybe A. Going to FPU class together? Teaching No Matter What to the youth group? Teaching FPU at our church? All A.

And then, what about work? Reading e-mail is a C task. So is the daily stand-up meeting, and probably the weekly planning game; not sure about release planning meetings. What about fixing bugs? Coding new features? Refactoring our existing code base? Writing unit tests? I’d guess those are probably Bs. Yes, unit tests have value for as long as they’re around, but I’m not sure most of them have an individual half-life of more than two years. But there’s plenty of room for debate on that.

I can think of two categories of things I do at work that would definitely fall into the A category. One is working on improving our XP process. Making it work more smoothly. Getting our customers more involved in the process; helping them write acceptance tests. Helping management understand, in more and more depth, how XP is really supposed to work. Pushing back when they want to release every two weeks, even though we don’t have enough automated tests yet, and that kind of schedule doesn’t give adequate time for manual testing. Just in general oiling the gears so that we can get our work done. And, in general, stuff I’m not all that good at, or excited about, doing. But it’s some of the most important work we have to do. Hmm…

And the other category of work A-tasks is, stuff that will help me. Not just my current employer, but me, for my entire career. In my job field, that means learning. Learning better ways to write tests. Learning better ways to factor code. Learning new languages, new toolsets. Taking training classes. Going to BorCon.

One thing Steve doesn’t even talk about is money. How could we apply the 50-30-20 rule to our budget? A tasks, right now, would be things like paying off debt. C tasks would be things like groceries and gas. B tasks seem like the hardest to figure out, but I think things like car maintenance and weatherproofing the downstairs door would fall into this category. We’ll have to look over our budget and start trying to figure out what falls where. It’ll certainly be an interesting way to think about how to spend our Christmas money.

You know, it’s really kind of disturbing to look at things in these terms, and realize that most of what I do is stuff that won’t matter a week from now. But disquiet aside, it’ll be a fun thing to spend some time chewing on.

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