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Can time management improve productivity of QA testers?

Despite what you might think, time management is possible. Expert Amy Reichert explains how QA testers can stop procrastinating and take charge of their lives.

How can you increase your testing productivity, reduce stress and do your work with a higher level of quality? You can do it all -- or, at least, improve it all -- using quality assurance (QA) time management techniques. Time management skills are critical for QA success in terms of testing productivity and job satisfaction. Managing your time allows you to produce higher quality work as well as take charge of your work day.

Frequently, QA testers are overloaded with deadline-driven work that is either late or nearly late. Also, QA testers face an enormous amount of testing they need to complete in a short period of time. Although QA testers can't necessarily control all aspects of the testing workday, they can leverage QA time management techniques to bring harmony and balance into QA work life.

By harmony and balance, I mean eliminating stress and increasing fun at work. No way, as a QA tester? Yes, you can and you need to try it out to preserve both your health and your state of mind.

First, stop avoiding tasks or procrastinating. Dig in and get going. If you have a large testing project and don't know where to start, spend 30 minutes planning an approach. The first step is to take charge and the second is to formulate a plan. It doesn't have to be a formal plan; jot down whatever works in the form of an outline, list or free-association drawing. The purpose is to prioritize the work you have to do, determine the sequence of tasks and plan how you'll spend the available time.

One way to plan QA time management constructively is to divide each task into smaller blocks of time. If you can keep the work prioritized and in smaller defined pieces, you'll know your key responsibilities and when you'll have them completed.

Try not to switch between tasks or work on multiple tasks simultaneously. It takes time to shift gears and the more you do it, the more you waste time. Multitasking appears productive, but it also increases mistakes and tends to reduce the overall quality of your work. Stay focused on your QA tasks in the sequence and time blocks you've established. Many QA testers find that a daily planner helps keep them organized. Personally, I use mind mapping techniques on paper or an electronic version of a mind mapping tool.

Knowing exactly what you need to do first and then planning time blocks helps you reduce thrashing and unnecessary stress. Save your energy and focus on testing to find defects and improving the software quality of your application.

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During QA testing, what is your secret weapon against procrastination?
If something seems overwhelming, break it down into small tasks, like the article suggests. Spend time researching any existing documentation & talking with other people to get your head wrapped around the problem. Sometimes I can spend a couple days doing this. Then I begin to feel a lot more comfortable getting started.

Also I make myself spend myself spend an hour or so concentrating on a task before taking a little break and reward myself with something fun for a few minutes.
I actually employ parts of Franklin Covey’s time management practices (in particular The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity) to prioritize tasks and block off time to work on on my testing tasks. Sometimes they do get sidelined as urgent tasks crop up, but it really helps prevent procrastination.
I have found that there are two major causes of procrastination for me - work that is not well defined  and work that is too well defined. Like the article suggests, when there is no well defined work (don't know where to start), it really helps dividing the tasks into smaller, specific and achievable subtasks. However, when the subtasks are too well defined, say to test-case level granularity, the work becomes monotonous instead.

Monotonous testing is especially an issue during regression testing. To avoid this, I try to think of new test ideas, new platforms or new approaches whenever I have to work with software that I have already tested in the past.
"First, stop avoiding tasks or procrastinating. Dig in and get going. "  While this seems obvious, I feel we need to examine what the drag is on our time sometimes.  On one project I discovered that 35% of my time was spent inspecting test runs with flaky automation.  On another project, I often couldn't really hammer down till wednesday or thursday afternoon because of when dev changes merged in.

As a tester I try to figure out when the pain points of my day are, sometimes skipping the 'unnecessary' meeting attendance to get more quality time with the software.  The suggesting of planning can help some, but tracking time during a day can help even more.

Good tips. I also think that these strategies work for a huge variety of things in life. Whenever you're faced with something that seems overwhelming, break it down into some small first steps that you accomplish relatively easily, and then go from there.
The Association for Software Testing’s Workshop On Self-Education in software testing (WHOSE) actually listed Time Management as one of the six essential skills for a software tester: