Why Limit Work in Progress?

Jim BensonFeatured, Primers14 Comments

Too many things in the air at once can be dangerous.

Too many things in the air at once can be dangerous.

Posts about WIP.

You have two hands. You can only juggle so many things at a time. The more you add, the more likely it is that you will drop something.

When we promise work – we agree to juggle it.  When we start it – we start juggling.  Even if you stop working on it, you’re brain keeps juggling it.  You see, when you have an unfinished task, your brain starts thinking about how it will be completed, why you have to do it, when the deadline is, the person for whom you are doing it and all the emotional baggage that might go with any of those. Your brain doesn’t stop thinking about these things until they are “done”.  Even if you set it aside, it still creates existential overhead.

Forgetting work you’ve started is much like forgetting a flaming torch you are juggling. If it falls, it’s likely to catch more things on fire.

How do you handle this? Simple. Do less at a time, do things more efficiently, and end up doing more overall by doing less right now.

Do you need another metaphor?

Traffic at 100 percent capacity does not move

Traffic at 100 percent capacity does not move

We feel like if we have “free time” we have “capacity” and therefore can fit more work in. We are not unlike a freeway.

A freeway can operate from 0 to 100 percent capacity.  But when a freeway’s capacity gets over about 65%, it starts to slow down.  When it reaches 100% capacity – it stops.

So capacity is a horrible measure of throughput.  Multitasking is a horrible way to manage your synapses.  If your brain is a highway and you are filling yourself with work, after a time you start to slow down.

Your rush hour gets longer and longer. You find yourself struggling to get out simple tasks.

Simply because you think you can handle more work-in-progress does not make it so.  Simply because we can fit a few more SUVs on the freeway does not mean it’s a good idea. So-called “idle” time is vital for a healthy brain – and it is a misnomer. Time when you aren’t forcing your brain to pump something out is when it’s doing background processing on things you “aren’t” doing.

See all the posts about WIP.

Juggler Photo: cc. Matthieu

Traffic Photo: cc Lynac

Jim BensonWhy Limit Work in Progress?