What is a Personal Unit Test?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Computer programmers are very familiar with the concept of unit testing. This is the testing of programs in small units to make sure that each part of the program is working as it should be. Now the concept of unit testing has been applied to the organization of personal life, with the invention of the personal unit test. The personal unit test was an idea first espoused in 2007 by Michal J. Wallace, who runs the blog Without an e. Edward O’Connor later picked up his concepts, and the computer programmer websites are buzzing with this application of programming to daily life.

Balancing a checkbook can be a personal unit test.
Balancing a checkbook can be a personal unit test.

You could describe a personal unit test as an interesting mix of daily aspirations, to do lists, and as Wallace describes, a series of checks to see if everything is as you would like or need it to be. You derive your own list from the things you’d like to see happen on a daily basis. Each morning you go through the list to see if you need to change or adjust your behavior in order to make sure “all systems” are running smoothly.

The personal unit test does not focus on big things like huge weight loss goals, major adjustments to personal life, or major relationship goals. Instead it parcels out things that need to get done into small increments. If you were trying to lose weight for instance, the test wouldn’t say, “I’ve lost 200 pounds.” The test would say, “I stayed on my diet yesterday or had a free day off the diet.” You would then make a check mark in the pass or fail list.

You can apply the personal unit test to organizational tasks with pass/fail standards. For instance if one personal unit is that you need to keep your desk clear of clutter, you could have “I kept my desk clean yesterday,” on your daily test, and check pass or fail. The goal is to keep daily checks with how much of the things you want to occur or think should be happening are actually happening. To extend the computer analogy, if unit testing fails on much of a software application, the whole system can be brought to a grinding halt and productivity falters. For the individual, when you’re not really passing most of your personal unit test, it’s time to think of whether you need to make life changes.

There are many things you can include on the personal unit test, and over time you can look at percentage value of pass/fail. Some people organize this by spread sheet, but there’s no need for a person to do this, especially if you keep the list to numbers that are easy to divide into percentages. The benefit of using spreadsheet evaluation is that you can evaluate your performance over time more quickly, especially if you’re used to reading spreadsheets.

You could consider the following things for your personal unit testing: daily diet and exercise goals, taking time to organize, evaluating finance, recording receipts or balancing checkbooks, performing housecleaning tasks or chores, making a commitment to read, making a commitment to spend a certain amount of time with children, and the list could be ongoing. It shouldn’t be so extensive that you are overwhelmed; bring it down to the bare essentials at first, then if you’re passing all the time, it’s time to add a few more things that will help better organize your life or improve yourself.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


great idea! sometimes i think that we have too many ways to remind ourselves of what we're doing wrong. although, you can use this to improve on your shortcomings and congratulate yourself on a job well done!

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