habits quality

Keystone habits in action

What is a keystone habit

According to The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg, when there is a habit change, it can set off a chain reaction that has the ability to change your self-image.

It sounds simple, powerful, and appealing, so I wanted to try it out for my team.

The quality problem

At the time, we had lots of conversations around the quality of our product.

We released every other week, and every time we released a new version, we found ourselves staying late to fix bugs and spending the first week just worrying about the following incident.

We quickly got overwhelmed with all the places we could begin enhancing and would get stuck in endless debates about value, effort, and priority against other work.

When we least expected it, the next release was already here, and we had not made any progress on making our situation any better.

Trying out a keystone habit

When it came to us, we needed to start somewhere that we all agreed on, was easy to get started, and that would unlock many other enhancements along the way.

We chose to get good at automated testing.

In theory, our quality would improve, our confidence in deployment would increase, and we all agreed that automated testing had a low barrier of entry for all teams involved.


It was surprisingly better than we expected. Here are a few items we unlocked.

Confidence in deployment — with increased automated tests, we stopped fearing deployments so much since we knew the code was under test.

Surfacing regressions quickly — since the tests run on every pull request, we quickly knew when regressions were introduced.

Lower reliance on QA teams — before our automated test suite, QA felt overwhelmed trying to test everything before every release.

After automated tests, QA could guide engineers on good testing practices and validate core use cases.

Maintainable code — to our surprise, automating unit tests drove us to write code in smaller, easy-to-test functions, with the resulting code being easier to understand, maintain, and enhance.

Enhanced product understanding — another side effect was the desire to understand better the different ways our code implementation could work, driving more conversations with our product counterparts to dig deeper around possible edge cases, business validations, and other business domain-specific items not initially apparent from the initial work descriptions.

What keystone habits will you introduce to your teams?

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habits stories Time management

Unblocking yourself

I am recovering from a couple of weeks of COVID madness and trying to get back into my habits, including writing.

To my surprise, I had no idea what to write about. I was effectively blocked.

Thinking about being blocked reminded me of being blocked at work and what I did to get moving.

In management, you are constantly bombarded with information streams that seem equally important.

To tackle the work, we resort to prioritization frameworks, to-do lists, four Ds (do, delete, delegate, delay), and other techniques that give us confidence that we’re working on precious work.

In my experience, prioritizing is where I tend to feel blocked, and the anxiety of not making progress kicks in.

This is where a quick mind hack kicks in to save the day. I add a to-do item called “prioritize work” and mark it as the most essential item on my list.

And just like that, I am now going through all the various items and applying prioritization techniques to ensure I use my time well.

The problem was not seeing the value of prioritizing.

I felt blocked just staring at the amount of work in front of me, and since I feel good about making progress constantly, I incorrectly assumed that prioritizing work wasn’t progress.

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empathy growth habits management

Project empathy, day two

For day two of our project, I only got in 30 minutes of work. Here is how that went.

Since I am in management, I am constantly in project management and productivity software such as Jira and Todoist.

The idea is to build a project management tool that feels as simple as todoist.

Doing so should get me into design, architecture, and software system implementation.

Thus reminding myself of what it is like to do all the things I expect of engineers in my teams.

With this in mind, I created a few documentation tasks and got started on the first one, defining a `project.`

The deliverable requires a model, commands, queries, events, API consumers, and dependencies.

Luckily, I found a microservices canvas that neatly organizes the areas I hoped to document.

I copied it into our repository and filled it out with `project` details. 

Check out the draft here https://github.com/toyiyo/todo/blob/issue-3-define-project/services%20canvas/project.adoc

For day two, I figured out what I wanted this project to shape and started a documentation task via a microservices canvas template.

Stay tuned for day three.



Yesterday, December 2, was my son‘s fifth birthday.

My wife put together some lovely P.J. mask decorations.

She bought cake, muffins and had some candles for my son to blow.

It all felt very nice.

My son was happy, dancing, and very engaged in the celebration.

And this made me realize that we often forget to celebrate our successes in life.

So my advice to you today is to celebrate more, especially the little things.

You will be happy and bring happiness to those around you.

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habits stories


As I dictated this from the community park, I got reminded of a book I read on stress management.

In this book, they talk about resiliency, and the author gives an example of their kid learning how to go up the stairs, and he describes the experience from his point of view as one of Joy.

When his small daughter runs into a challenge going up the stairs, she doesn’t give up. Instead, she smiles and continues attempting to go up the stairs, figuring out different ways of what was working and what wasn’t.

I am here at the park, and I’m looking at my kids going over the spinning monkey bars, and my daughter kept trying and trying, and then she finally made it over.

My son, the younger one, keeps looking at my daughter, and when he sees how she’s going about it, and then he tries to mimic her, but on the first switch over, he slows downs and doesn’t gain good enough momentum to make it all the way through.

He smiles, jumps down, gets up on the stairs, and tries again and the great thing about this is that not only is he being resilient, but he has an example to follow.

So how does all this relate to business?

I wrote about habits before, a.k.a. resiliency and repetition, but that’s not enough. It also helps to have an excellent person to follow — having a guide.

Someone who can show you the path is why mentoring becomes so important and having the resiliency to stick through it and learn and improve in whatever we’re doing in business.

In summary, create some good habits don’t give up. Continue attempting and trying different things. At some point, you’ll be successful.

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Swimming and business

I began swimming at the age of three, and ever since I started, it looked pretty bland.

Every day, I would swim early in the morning, the afternoon, and even on weekends.

I also started going to the gym on top of swimming, and I did this every day until I became an adult.

Your upbringing highly correlates to how you handle yourself in your adult life. For me, swimming had a significant impact on how I conduct myself in business. Here’s how.


Training competitively can be grueling, but you’ll often hear people push through the pain and continue training, always looking at a bigger goal.

In business, you have very grueling times as well, and you will find yourself questioning why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Was this the right decision? Am I learning enough to determine a reasonable path forward?

Tenacity comes into play anytime you doubt yourself, and swimming, like many other competitive sports, will teach you to keep going even when you don’t feel like doing the work.


I trained every day, twice a day on weekends until adulthood.

I guess you could say I got into the habit of swimming every day at the same time.

In business, getting into habits becomes extremely useful.

If you want to be a better engineer, you can get into the habit of writing code daily.

If you’re going to be a better writer, you can get into the habit of writing a page on a basis.

Do you want to be better at public speaking? You can introduce a habit of speaking to an audience daily.

Habits allow us to get better and make things that are difficult in the beginning easy to the point where we might not think about them anymore, and then we can build more habits on top of the ones we already have.

Competing against myself

One of my swimming habits was constantly recording my times during training and after competitions.

Doing so allowed me to understand if I was getting better.

I could track my progress over time and make sure that the changes I was introducing to my training were helping me get better.

Sure, I did compare myself to other swimmers, I wanted to be the best, so I would look up to them and wonder what they were doing to get to where they were.

In reality, I needed to compete against myself first.

As long as I was improving even one percent, those improvements compounded over time, and eventually, I found myself going to nationals with the same people I used to look up to.

In business, we often look at the competition, our counterparts at other companies and wonder how they got there.

The reality is that we need to improve ourselves first, and to do so, we need to measure how we’re doing and understand if the changes that we bring to our daily habits are helping us improve even that one percent that over time will compound.

When you least expect it, you will be at the same level or better than those you used to look up to.


My sport of choice, swimming, taught me about tenacity, good habits, and self-improvement.

I keep those lessons to improve myself and add value to society and my family by getting better every day.

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Better habits

this is just today’s mini post based on the atomic habits book.

I was recently reading atomic habits and it made me realize that I had wanted to start writing more often, specifically in this blog, but I always felt like I never had time to do it.

In the book they suggest that you start a daily habit by creating an intention

An intention might look like “on a daily basis at 9 PM I am going to write a blog post.”

Now, an entire blog post might take me a while to write since I usually put a lot of thought into it, but the book suggests we start doing any new activity for no more more than two minutes.

So this here is my two minute blog post stating in my intent to write for about two minutes a day and see how that goes.

I intent to publish these quick writings on a daily basis, so I apologize in advance if the content is not as great as you would expect.

The intention is to start a better habit and to actually become a better writer, so thanks in advanced for joining me in this adventure and I hope that you’ll stick around for more content

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