Big Boxes

Thirty years ago, I used to work at Toys’R’Us. I really enjoyed that job and sometimes consider returning to a life of stocking shelves. It’s become a bit cliché at this point to hear another tech bro wax on about how they’re going to quit and open a coffee shop, start woodworking, or become a janitor somewhere. This post isn’t that post.

About once a week, an 18-wheeler would back itself up to the truck bay, and then two or three of us would unload every box on that truck as quickly as we could onto a bunch of skids—usually in about 3 hours or so. The store was divided into three sections: the very memorable A, B, and C sections. Everything coming off the truck would be quickly sorted into piles for each section. Work there for a little while and the size and shape of boxes become easily identifiable without even needing to look at labels.

From there, all of that inventory needed to be moved either to the floor (ie: onto store shelves), overstock (the piles of inventory packed 4–6ft high on the very top shelf), or thrown into the back, aka the 500s (the ancient term used to refer to the storage hidden from customers).

I used a specific approach of grabbing the largest boxes from the bay and putting those away first. This created the illusion of faster progress—I could visually see the piles shrink rapidly until all that was left was a small pile of tiny boxes. Selfishly, this created the illusion to management, too, that I was working faster.

To this day, I still do the tasks that look like they have the biggest impact.

When I do the dishes, I do the plates and bowls first, then the glasses, and then the utensils. Doing the big stuff clears off the counter and makes it look like I’m getting the dishes done more quickly. (It’s not an unheard of thing for me to “let the utensils soak”, to be dealt with later.)

When working on an app, I’ll build out the bulk of the front-end before I jump on the backend. I’ll get the easier data types editing and saving before I work on the more complicated form interactions.

They say the last 20% takes 80% of the time and I chalk it up to the big boxes and small boxes. Putting away all the big boxes might look like I did 80% of the work but it’s a visual trick. In reality, there are a lot of small boxes that still need to be put away.

Sure, I might be able to get something that a client can see and interact with within a day or two but the reality is that a quality product means putting away all of the small boxes. That takes time, time that might visually look less impactful but in the end is just as important as everything else.

Published May 06, 2024
Categorized as Other
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