“Almost done” doesn’t count

Quite a while ago I changed my approach slightly to facilitating a team’s daily stand-up meeting. Instead of going through the items on the board from left to right, I asked about them from right to left. Things towards the right are closer to done, so the idea is to focus on getting the “almost done” work actually done, and so delivery is more successful.

Of course, this lesson does not originate from agile software development, it’s just a general lesson about working life—“almost done” doesn’t count, only “really done” is useful to anyone. But I find it’s harder to apply that rule in everyday working life, perhaps because everyday working life isn’t as well-structured as a team that has tickets on a board and daily meetings.

Like everyone else I know, I’ve often got too much to do in any one day. And there are so many tasks on my task list that it’s too easy to switch back and forth between them. Perhaps this is to avoid the sense of being overwhelmed. Move this task a bit, move that task a bit, move a third task forward… everything makes progress, but nothing gets completed.

I find I really have to focus to get something actually done. But I’ve also found that when it does reach that “done” state it actually makes a noticeable difference. That’s not just because of the thing itself, it’s because I’m just one person contributing to a much bigger effort. The thing I’ve done enables much bigger things to happen. This shouldn’t be too surprising, because we’re all part of a bigger team and a bigger organisation, even if we may sometimes feel a bit isolated.

For example, if I have to review a management policy then my review—even though it’s just a review—enables that policy to become a reality, and suddenly people’s lives feel a little bit better. If I need to answer a difficult email then a clear and thoughtful answer will give someone direction, and that problems gets solved sooner.

It requires effort to get things over the line, and sometimes it requires putting time aside, closing a few apps, and switching off notifications. But the consequences are significant.

Photo by omgponies2

4 thoughts on ““Almost done” doesn’t count

  1. Good post +1

    > I find I really have to focus to get something actually done.
    ain’t that the truth – and I think it’s getting _harder_ to do as time goes by

    > the sense of being overwhelmed
    it can be paralyzing

    > it actually makes a noticeable difference
    the way I think about it is that the work is finally ready to be integrated with other peoples’ work – and that gives a chance for us to be greater than the sum of the parts

  2. ” … and there are so many tasks on my task list …”
    If I would hear such an excuse, I would use my ‘Bullshit Stamp’ (www.malotaux.eu/?id=delay , bottom of page). If you would use my Evo planning technique there would be exactly the right amount of tasks on your task list that can be done in the available time. See booklet#2, chapter 6 in my website on the booklets page.

  3. @Gus, thank you for that. Yes, “greater than the sum of the parts” is an excellent way to explain it.

    @Neils, if I was working in a project then I’d agree with you – or else I’d want to ask some questions of the project manager. But – particularly outside a structured project and in the world of (what we might call) “miscellaneous management” – there is a lack of structure. The stakeholders are all over the place, there isn’t an organised process for prioritising the work that all the stakeholders agree on, I don’t have my own personal project manager, or analyst, my job doesn’t have a nice quantified goal, and so on. Some principles of Evo planning do apply, but miscellaneous management is very different from a project.

  4. Why does it have to be a project? Individuals have used my approach to almost immediately deliver better results in less time. Managers have. The only prerequisite is that they want to deliver better results in less time. The rest are all BS excuses.
    Even if there is no clear goal, and people (initially) don’t prioritize, I always start with what they think they should accomplish. Whatever that is. Asking a few weird questions inadvertently make the selecting more doing right things, and less doing unnecessary things.

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