Want to go to the moon? Just fly there.
Want to spend all of your free time doing whatever you like? Just quit your job.
Want to be in a band? Just start a band.
Want to write a blog post? Just write one.
Want to have steak for dinner? Just do it. Two minutes' work, done. Right? (Note: This is not an invitation for a discussion about how to cook steak "properly")
It's easy for most people to see why you can't just fly to the moon (sorry, Sinatra), or just quit your job, but depending on your perspective you may well be thinking that you can just start a band. It's likely that anyone reading this does think it's reasonable to just write a blog post, and anyone can cook a steak, right?
We generally don't like it when other people trivialise our achievements. Imagine you're an artist, and you've spent countless hours of your life - hours that you won't get back, and with which you could've been doing anything else - practicing, learning, and experimenting. Now imagine that you have people regularly say things like "You're so talented, I wish I had talent like that!", dismissing your own personal sacrifices with a suggestion of "you're so lucky!"
Despite this, it often feels like we can be too quick to trivialise problems that we need to solve. For what it's worth, I imagine this is usually out of optimism rather than malice, but "just" makes it easy to accidentally trivialise someone else's workload, and tasks you're asking them to complete. If someone asks you to "just" cook them a steak, but you don't have any to cook, then that original estimate isn't going to match up all that well.
We're all busy practically all of the time, and when we suggest that someone "just does x", then it's easy to accidentally increase each other's stress levels, and that can't be good for anyone. "Can you just write a blog post on service testing" for example, sounds very different to "Can you produce a guide on service testing" - even if they amount to the exact same thing. It can - in my opinion at least - be very helpful for anyone receiving a task to know that the implications are understood by the person asking it of them.
The easy trap is to replace
just with something else - let's say,
"Want to spend all of your free time doing whatever you want? Simply quit your job."
Hmm. Not a good look - now we have the same problem as before, but we sound like terrible people. That's interesting though isn't it - the reason this feels wrong is because we realise that saying "simply" implies that the solution we're proposing is, well, simple. "Just" does the same thing, but it's harder to see.
My own rules on this are:
"Am I referring to something that's happened recently (i.e. "oh I just saw this...")"
Yes ⇒ Cool, no problem.
"Can I honestly replace just with only? (i.e. "You only have to [do one thing]")
Yes ⇒ Then do so - but only if the "only" is useful.
No ⇒ Then prefer not to use either.
When I don't front-load "just", I find that it makes me think more about what I need to do. Rather than focusing entirely on the initial goal, I'm led to think about the wider implications; which helps when estimating as well as making things less error-prone once they're deployed.
The engineers on the team that I currently work on have been enthusiastic about eradicating "why don't you just/can't we just/you just need to". Instead, we've been challenging ourselves whenever we say "just", and it's having a noticeable impact on our thought processes it comes to edge-cases that we might otherwise miss.
An unintended but very welcome side-effect of this has been that we've made massive improvements to our documentation. We've been making a push for better documentation for a while, but since we started challenging "you just need to", we've uncovered a lot of things that you'd definitely not "just" be able to do if it was your first day on the job, and that has improved our documentation no end.
The existence of that documentation gives us an easy place to look to first for answers to any questions we have, but also makes it "safe" to ask any questions on anything that isn't documented. We've taken the attitude of "you can't judge anyone for asking anything that we haven't got in our documentation", and these questions tend to lead to "I'll add this to our documentation", which further improves the situation for everyone. All because we "just" started challenging "just".
Einstein said (so I'm told - I wasn't there to personally verify), that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he'd spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and 5 minutes working on the solution. I can't imagine he ever thought to himself "I'll just prove atomic theory."
The thing that made me think more seriously about "just" and its over-representation within our language at work was Evan Czaplicki's fantastic Strangeloop talk earlier this year, about the hard parts of open-source. I highly recommend giving it a watch!