How important is it to work on interesting and/or challenging problems? I propose that it is very important.
I have been quite privileged at Softek to have worked on mostly very interesting and often challenging problems, projects, and products. However, I was tasked with a less than interesting and more tedious than challenging project for several weeks. Having since finished that project and moved back to the interesting sort of projects, I've realized how much of a difference it makes for my productiveness and happiness to work on interesting projects.
At Softek, I work on a clinical application for radiologists. Developing Health care software is mostly very interesting and challenging. Some aspects of Health care software, however, are not very interesting and can be very tedious. I was pulled off one of the interesting projects to work on one of those uninteresting projects last month. Let's talk about that month.
##An Uninteresting Problem I already was frustrated when I started working on it because I had to switch contexts to work on this new project. To make matters worse, the problem wasn't very interesting or compelling, yet we had to do it. We also knew that it would take about a month to complete.
So, uninteresting... got it. Let's focus on the effects and outcomes of that month.
###Sluggishness I felt really sluggish throughout that month. Partly, my mind was still thinking about the other project, so I was having a hard time switching contexts and getting up to speed. Also, I feel like I never got into the "zone" that month, or if I did, rarely. Even though I was getting things done, I felt unproductive and it seemed like my time would have been better spent elsewhere.
###Burn out For the first time at Softek, I was beginning to experience burn out. Day after day, I started to dread going in to work. I can't explain it—I have always enjoyed going to work, but during that month I simply didn't. This was a really dangerous place to be because I began to consider greener pastures outside of Softek. It's a good thing this project had a month-long limit; I seriously doubt I could have gone on like that for much longer.
###Seeing the Light Because I knew this was a finite project, I knew there would be an end, and that end was in sight. At that point, I knew I just had to power through it. I still battled the sluggishness and burn out, but I was at least determined to get through it and do a good job at the same time.
So, I survived.
##The Takeaway Working on uninteresting things is not positive. It impacts the happiness of the developers, and makes them less productive. The ROI better be good to make your developers work on these things. They will do much better working on problems that interest them.
###What I'm Looking Forward To There are a LOT of interesting projects in our pipeline, and I'm really excited to work on them. We're getting better as an organization at managing scope-creep, sales-centered requirements, and other things that lead towards uninteresting projects. Sometimes, we just have to solve problems that aren't that fun, but fortunately those are a rare breed at Softek. We are building some great software that is helping to save lives. It really is fun to go to work again, and I think it will stay that way for some time.
If you have any tips for avoiding burn out in situations like this, share your story in the comments!