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August 1, 2014

One play at a time

In case you don’t know me, I’m a football fan. The NFL season can never come soon enough. During the offseason, I love catching up on the inside stories that that you can find on shows like ‘A Football Life’ on the NFL Network. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it essentially goes behind the scenes and details the lives of players, coaches, or other giants of the NFL world. It also gives insight regarding decisions that were made in the past or how those associated with the sport or approached the game. A while ago, I caught the episode on Marty Schottenheimer, who was head coach of the Washington Redskins, and the San Diego Chargers. There is a section in the story where they address his coaching philosophy, known as ‘one play at a time.’ If you’re interested, his philosophy is described in the first two minutes of the video, which you can watch by clicking on the link here.

Schottenheimer shares his one play at a time approach-emphasizing that each play is a chance to succeed or fail. He stresses that once the play is over, you don’t dwell on the outcome because you can’t change it. Instead, it’s more important to focus on the next task. This becomes especially crucial if the previous play was not successful. He also talks about how a football game is basically a series of plays that work together to impact the outcome.

So how does this translate to life outside of football?

I’m a Web developer, and with that title I wear many different hats. On any given day, I may design a database, write HTML, style it with CSS, and write PHP to handle user functionality and database interaction, troubleshoot issues or plan future projects. That’s a lot of stuff to handle.

If I’m being honest, sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes, after a meeting I look at my to-do list and begin to wonder if it is actually some cruel joke. There have been many times when I had so much on my plate that I didn’t know where to start. I felt like even if I crossed a few things off the list it still wouldn’t look like I made any progress.

For me, this is where Marty’s philosophy applies to my daily life. I try not to look at my to-do list as one giant thing that needs to be conquered, but as a series of smaller tasks that all have their own start, end and outcome. If you think about it, it isn’t much different from a football play. The key is to treat my list like Schottenheimer would-once the task is done it’s time to move on to the next task without looking back. I admit, it’s not always easy, especially if the task made you want to put your head down on your desk and cry, which is typically the case when dealing with bugs in code. Although it’s easy to get frustrated at the circumstances that led to the bug, it’s important to focus on the reality and fix it so I can move on.

I’ve been doing something like this for a while now. It’s not a perfect system, and there are still those fumbles that will foul your mood, but changing my approach to my daily tasks makes me feel more productive. More importantly, because of this approach, I have less stress in my work day. It has also made it easier to handle inevitable emergencies without throwing off my entire game. Instead of tossing in the towel, a new task slots right in to the next spot on the list and I’m able to take it one play at a time, without looking back.