I’m definitely enamored of the idea behind dividing work into “sprints,” whether we’re talking about design or development, single days or longer time periods. I like the idea that you set your timeframe and goals, and it’s very easy to evaluate your success at the end of the sprint: did you meet your goals or not?

I wanted to take this concept, which is how I’ve broken up my days in the last few years, and put a little twist on it: I wanted to pair my daily development sprints with a real-world activity to fill in the off time: smoking a 7 pound pork shoulder. Just how much development work could I get done in the 12–14 hours it would take to cook?

For those not familiar with the concept of daily sprints, you set a goal or series of goals and break up your day in chunks of time working and then forced break periods. At the end of the day, you evaluate whether you accomplished all the work you needed to do for the day, and then plan your goals and sprints for the next work day. I prefer to work 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off when I’m working at home, and this would pair perfectly with smoking a pork shoulder: once the smoker is set up, you check the temperature about every hour, adjusting the smoker and adding fuel if necessary. The bonus to this was that at the end of my day, not only should I have gotten a solid chunk of development work done, but I’d have pulled pork to celebrate.

The work I selected to do was a “refreshing” of the codebase for the Noble Narrative website. The site was originally built about 3 years ago, and there was a laundry list of things I wanted to update: it wasn’t mobile first, flexbox and background-cover weren’t widely adopted so it had javascript faking those features, it wasn’t using a CSS preprocessor, it wasn’t being deployed via Git. Really, there was nothing WRONG with the site, but it didn’t reflect the way I build things nowadays, which is important when you’re pitching work to savvy clients. My plan wasn’t to introduce too many new features during this sprint, but to set it up to add some fresh content and features in the days following the sprint.

I started the smoker in the morning, and after the first hour and a half or so (when you really have to pay attention to it closely), I settled in to work. Every time my 45–50 minute sprint finished, I went outside and checked on the process. I often took a picture and updated Twitter with what I was working on, and a real-time photo of how the pork was cooking. The shoulder took about 14 hours in total to finish, and I definitely didn’t do 14 development sprints. I was able to get all of my big ticket items accomplished: the site is now mobile first, which simplified and eliminated extraneous code, running Gulp and SASS, and deployed to the live server via Git (and Bitbucket). In addition, I reworked the page headers to use background cover, and the top area of the homepage is using flexbox, which eliminated quite a bit of javascript.

In the days following this sprint, I was able to add new work and some new features to the site much easier than if I’d been trying to deal with the old codebase simultaneously to building new features. Investing the time to focus on just hitting the reset button on the code powering the site payed dividends already in the time it took to build those new features.

Pulled Pork Progress
Progress pictures of an updated codebase wouldn't be all that interesting, so I documented the pork shoulder, which garnered much more internet enthusiasm.

The biggest thing I took out of this was the idea that having a simultaneous task for the break time in daily development sprints can be both helpful and rewarding. I often use that 10–15 minute off time to check Twitter or browse other websites, which can easily be distracting for longer than your intended break. Because I had a secondary task for those breaks, I went out and accomplished that task, and then came back in to work. I’m definitely going to try to incorporate this concept going forward, because it was doubly productive and rewarding.

And let’s face it, when you finish your day with 7lbs of freshly-smoked pulled pork, it makes all of that development time totally worth it.