Since I have procrastinated writing a blog article for a few months now, procrastination is very top of mind. I am going to try to break my article procrastination by sharing some tips for beating diagram procrastination. As a solution architect, I sometimes find myself stuck, thinking day after day about an architecture diagram I need to create. Instead of creating it, I continue researching, talking to more people, tackling other tasks on my list, organizing my digital desktop, organizing my actual desktop, pondering the meaning of life, yoga,... avoiding. Here are some hard-earned tips for getting the diagram done.
I realize this one seems obvious (and not terribly helpful): the key to diagram procrastination avoidance is to stop procrastinating, but it sometimes is that simple. You don't need to know what the end state will look like to get started. As soon as you start dropping boxes and lines on the page, the overwhelming "I don't know enough" is replaced with realizing, much more specifically, what you know vs. what you still need to learn. It is part of the magic of diagrams. Once you get started, it is much easier to iteratively and incrementally learn and diagram to converge on the final product.
I have realized that I am better at editing and refining diagrams than I am at my first pass, so much like when I write, getting something (anything) onto the page is critical. It enables my capability to refine. It is also a huge stress reducer to slay the blank page.
I know that already. I have diagrammed thousands of solutions and taught hundreds of other people how to diagram solutions. I still get stuck. Now what?
Some of it can be tackled with some vanilla procrastination avoidance tips:
There are also some diagram-specific remedies for all you procrastinating solution architects out there.
This is an extension of the "Just Diagram" tip above. You don't need all, or even most, of the information about the solution architecture to get started diagramming. Even an incorrect diagram provides a more effective tool to elicit more information than a blank page. People love to point out mistakes, so it may even be a better tool than a correct diagram! Diagramming provides a structured way to think. A solution architecture diagram isn't an output, but a tool to figure things out. Knowing this can help you move forward.
Often times when I find myself struggling to capture information in a diagram, it is because I am using the wrong notation. Different types of diagrams are well suited for different aspects of a solution architecture. In those cases, switching to a different notation can enable you to move forward. In some cases you may even be using the right notation, but even if that's the case, switching to another notation and capturing a different aspect of the architecture can open up the floodgates and make it easier to return and make progress on your initial diagram.
This seems counter-intuitive, maybe even a more adding diagram procrastination than beating diagram procrastination: "I need to paint my living room, so I will paint my hallway." Even so, sometimes focusing on a different scope of the solution architecture or even a different solution architecture can help you get moving. Sort of like painting the hallway, then once you build up some momentum, just brushing your way into the living room. Or instead of focusing on the living room walls, switch to doing the trim first. I would start by trying to focus on a different scope of the same architecture, but if you are still stuck, just try diagramming something else and then come back. Flex those diagramming muscles to wake them up!
If you really don't know where to start, draw boxes for each in-scope component to your diagram - just boxes with labels. It is a pretty mindless task, so it doesn't require thinking, but doing, and "doing" is what you are aiming for! Overthinking fuels diagram procrastination, so sometimes mindless is just what you need. Then move them around to help yourself think through the categories and connections. Often times seeing them all in front of you can help you visualize how you want the diagram to look. If you prefer something more tactile, you can do the same with index cards or sticky notes on your desk.
I sometimes find myself distracted by the diagramming tool. Who knows why - I'm complicated. In those cases, switching to a new diagramming tool can help. For me, scratching it out on a pad helps me bypass (temporarily) my obsessive need for everything to be neat and organized on the diagram. Once you have a draft in any tool, digital or analog, it becomes much easier to covert it to the right tool and, yes, make it look great.
I understand that this could be seen as another form of procrastination. I also realize that this particular choice for taking a break might be me-specific. However, sometimes stepping away to clear your head is what it takes. Make a latte, take a walk, meditate, or do whatever activity works to relax your brain and let yourself reset.
Level unlocked! I completed my article and beat my procrastination. My procrastination may be licking its wounds, but I am sure it is not defeated. I predict I will be hand drawing a solution architecture diagram sometime this week.
Tips aside, I think the most useful nugget here is to remind yourself that a solution architecture diagram is not an output. A solution architecture diagram is a tool for figuring out a solution architecture. So it will always start wrong, then you use it to think, research, share, and refine to get it to right. Or "right enough" rather. Not only is done better than perfect, but in this case, perfect is unnecessary and not a great use of your time.
ps. While writing this article, I called my brother, paid some bills, organized my task list, read an article about AI, updated all my web site plugins, and... made a latte!