“Start stopping and start finishing” is the ultimate way to increase efficiency. And yet, none of us are doing it. I’ll explain that later shortly. But first, some backstory. Stop starting and start finishing (SSSF) is a Kanban strategy to increase throughput. The idea comes from Lean-Agile, which came from Lean manufacturing, which came from […]
“Start stopping and start finishing” is the ultimate way to increase efficiency. And yet, none of us are doing it. I’ll explain that later shortly. But first, some backstory.
Stop starting and start finishing (SSSF) is a Kanban strategy to increase throughput. The idea comes from Lean-Agile, which came from Lean manufacturing, which came from the Toyota Production System (TPS). Here’s the gist: to get more work completed faster, don’t start something new until you finish what you’ve already started.
Partially finished work is waste. It represents time and money you spent on something but received nothing in return. Until work is completed, it’s considered zero value. This applies to all types of work; whether it be the intangible items you store on your hard drive or tangible items you store in your garage. Unfinished work can’t get you feedback. It can’t generate revenue. It can’t provide you benefit of any real kind… until it’s done.
The longer incomplete work lingers, the larger the cost. Suppose you spent a month developing something valuable at the beginning of the year, but before you were able to complete it you put it aside to work on something else. Then, after working on a few other “something else’s,” you pick it up again… three months later. You would most likely have forgotten your deeper intent and complex plan, as well as how you were going to weave the ideas and technology together to create something incredible. All that time you spent building the complex neural memory connections of your related ideas and implementation plans are gone. You will spend a significant time rebuilding those cerebral data points before you’ll be able to really continue where you left off. Not only did you lose the time you originally spent working on your idea, but you also lost the time it takes to get back in the zone. That extra time is waste. If you decide to finish and release this item, it will negatively affect return for the following reasons:
Although most people understand the concept of stop starting, start finishing, too few of us do it.
We are wired to multitask. We think we will get more done if we do many things at once. Our hunter-gathering ancestors were constantly doing multiple things at the same time. They were constantly looking for food to gather, simultaneously searching for animals to hunt, and vigilantly avoiding someone or something intent on killing them. The person who put all their focus on a single thing for too long usually ended up dead, along with any future offspring. Over time, our brains became more sophisticated and capable of deep, complex thought, while our environment became safer, and food and shelter became a dependable staple. We could sit for significant stretches and engage our deep level thinking without being eaten by a tiger or starving to death.
Today’s complex problems require complex solutions, which, requires complex thinking, which requires focus. People brag about being fantastic multitaskers. When it comes to rudimentary thinking, sure, I believe them. But with higher-level thinking they are fooling themselves. Multi-tasking is not a badge of honor. To solve a complex problem, you cannot effectively do it while doing other things concurrently, like reading emails, chatting with friends, eating a sandwich, or watching cat videos, even if they aren’t funny. For complex work like programming, writing, creating, drawing, small motor repair, etc., your full brain capacity is required. The more you bounce back and forth between one task to the next, the more time you waste due to context switching, the lower the overall quality of the task will be, and the more stressed out you’ll feel.
Even so, we have the tendency to work on too many things in a given time frame thinking it will enable us to get more done. For example, when I travel, I like to just take a small carry-on, even if I am flying international. To do this, I often stuff more things into my bag than it has the capacity to carry. I think I’m being efficient. However, by over-filling it, I often either damage the suitcase or the items inside. It would be much better either to decrease the number of items I put in my suitcase or increase the capacity and get a bigger bag. Same goes for work. Say each week our team usually completes about five items. In the upcoming week, we already have three items scheduled for completion. Then a customer calls up and demands that we complete five of their specific requests during the same week. If I stuff in eight items, knowing my capacity is five, we will do our best to complete all eight items as dedicated employees. To do so, we will multitask… a lot (which we now know will make everything take longer). We will take short cuts. We will work over-time. These actions will lead to higher defects, which will add even more work in our already compressed timeframe to fix. At the end of the week, we shouldn’t be surprised if we not only didn’t complete all eight items, but we also didn’t complete our usual five, or even just three or four! And, of course, our customers would be mad. Worst of all, our team will be tired, frustrated, and demotivated. To pour salt in the wound, we have eight partially finished work items that will end up costing more in wasted time and potentially decaying in value.
Instead, we should have delayed the three currently scheduled items (depending on priority), then started five of the eight new items and completed them in the first week. Then we would complete the remaining two items the following week. All while managing our customers’ expectations along the way. As a result, we would have happy customers, happy employees, and a better bottom line.
It’s not enough to understand the benefits of not starting any work until finishing your work in progress. Having the discipline to do it is tough. Your brain is hardwired to be on the lookout for what it thinks may be more important things. It will keep nudging you to divide your attention. Other people may be continually interrupting you, delaying your progress. Carve out some chunks of focus time every day, where you turn off the extra distractions and get something finished. Keep ignoring your brain’s multitasking impulses and they will get quieter and less frequent. Your customers, your boss, and your mind will thank you.
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