Agile Careers


Jim ("Cope") Coplien is an old C++ shark who now integrates the technological and human sides of the software business as an author, coach, trainer, and executive consultant. He is one of the founders of the software pattern discipline, and his organizational patterns work is one of the foundations of both Scrum and XP. He currently works for Gertrud & Cope, is based in Denmark, and is a partner in the Scrum Foundation. He has authored or co-authored many books, including the recently released Wiley title, Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development. When he grows up, he wants to be an anthropologist. 

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An Extra Day

We all dream of adding years to our lives—by giving up smoking, through good exercise and diet, and all those other good things we associate with clean, healthy living. Let’s say that life gave you an extra day, that an extra day just dropped into your calendar. Would you treat it like just any other day? Would you just get caught up on your to-do list? Let me invite you into a gedanken experiment about such a day being a great opportunity to focus on concerns that would otherwise never make it to the top of your list. When they try to make it to the top, you find you don’t have time.

Holidays come close to serving this need, but it’s not quite the same. The year-end religious holidays bring us thoughts of charity. The advent of the New Year gives time for reflection on how life has been good to us — or about how we can make it better for ourselves in the next year. But these holidays become almost a duty. People make New Years’ resolutions almost begrudgingly. These holidays are a ritual. We can muse that these are the kinds of thoughts that every duty-minded employee attends to as a duty to their employer, mindful of sustaining their secured income. We can muse that a career-minded person, on the other hand, leaves those issues to the daily joy of problem solving, and uses the gift of extra time for outward focus.

In the same way, February 29 can take its place in our calendars as a gift. It’s an equal opportunity gift afforded to everyone, independent of their station in life or level of accomplishment. It’s a way that our culture has chosen to remind us to take time for what is important to us.

Every day should be a February 29. Far too many people make every day February 2, in the sense of the movie Ground Hog’s Day. It’s natural to take time and its daily activities for granted; routine and ritual are, in fact, important to avoiding information overload and as such are key to our survival. But try balancing the gait of routine daily activity with excursions into novelty. Consciously spend time alone, or consciously spend time with others. Be intentional in your actions for one day. You’ll learn much about yourself.

This year will also be the year of the leap second as well—the first time since December 2008. On June 30 at 23:59:60 (yes, that time is right) you’ll again have time added to the length of your life. Even an additional second can be a priceless gift. A spark of inspiration can arrive in a second. You can give a smile, or receive one, in a second. So, first, use that extra second. Then ponder on the thousands of ordinary seconds that you have this year as well, and consider how to use them wisely.

Of course, there will never be enough days dropping into your calendar for you to clean up your backlog. Yet, somehow, the gift of additional time helps you focus on what your priorities really are by encouraging to think of how you should most effectively use that time. And if you did something mundane on this February 29, it means that you’re a day ahead on the work of the upcoming months. That gives you even more flexibility to choose one of those days as your ersatz February 29. Take that day and think great thoughts—or, even better, do something really great.

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