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One task per day – let’s start an experiment

Honestly, I have too much on my platter. When I talk to my friends or family about this, I usually like to insert the word “currently“ into that sentence but that is a fad. The truth is, I totally lost control over my ToDo lists. I see myself as a well organized and hard working guy who can focus fairly well and usually gets his stuff done. Nevertheless from time to time I have the feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of tasks, ToDos and Backlog items staring at me.

The whole world: A ToDo list

What ever surrounds me starts to look like a ToDo list. Sure, I got my own personal Kanban board – hey, I’m agile, but there is more. ToDo lists are popping up everywhere, shouting for my attention and action. The Consulting Backlog I maintain with my clients is well monitored and obviously takes most of my attention – it pays my bills. My Amazon reading wish list currently contains more than 150 books I definitely want to read, not talking about my bookshelf at home. The reading list of interesting and noteworthy blog posts is about 200 articles long. My iTunes movie wish list now encompasses 80 movies which I once put there for a reason. I own a monthly audible subscription which grants me access to at least one audio book per month. Most of the time that is more than I can hear. I live in Berlin and the book “111 Places in Berlin that you shouldn’t miss“ demands my attention. And in the lobby of the hotel in which I slept last night I saw the book “1.000 Places to see before you die“. All of this adds up in addition to my business e-mail account, messages from different slack teams I attend, Skype messages and a few private e-mail accounts I keep checking occasionally.
Most of the ToDo Lists are growing in size. Even the number of ToDo lists seems to be ever increasing. My delivery rate in contrast does not. Honestly: My personal flow efficiency is poor.

This is not about the client

Over and over again I see this pattern within my clients’ organizations. The buckets are full of ideas and overwhelmingly huge. The need to say “no” to most of the Backlog items causes painful backlog refinement sessions. Some Product Owners and managers now and then complain heavily about the poor delivery capability of their software delivery teams and the processes which slow down product development. But the fact is: Most of the time the capability of an organization to create ideas exceeds the capability to deliver by magnitudes. The more steps a delivery process inherits and the more handovers are created the harder it becomes to properly balance demand against throughput. Although not every idea equals a backlog item and although there are loads of possibilities to increase the throughput of an organization significantly it always takes way longer to deliver a product than to think about it.
But this article is not about my clients. To be an authentic consultant I have to start with myself. This is not about “time management“. I guess I have to face the bitter truth that I always elaborately depicted to my clients: In a multioptional and highly competitive society the feeling of unlimited possibilities is ever increasing, and so ideas and tasks will always be growing like mushrooms. I have read a lot about time management. Despite the fact that you can’t manage time but only yourself I came to the conclusion that mere time or self management is not a proper solution to the problem I am facing. I need something else. And I am definitely not talking about a new task management system.

Try something else

Yes, I’ve read the book “The Power of No“ and it sounds almost trivial. I tried several times to keep my focus. But I think I wasn’t as consequent and radical as I should have been. It’s time to go a step further. What is my advice to clients when they start to drown in Work in Progress and spend more time on managing requests than delivering them?

  • Stop starting, start finishing
  • Reduce the Work in Progress to a bare minimum (until WIP Limit 1)
  • Follow the pull principle and don’t get overwhelmed by tasks pushed on you
  • Don’t waste your time with over-managing your backlog
  • Pair- or mob-work whenever possible to finish work together instead of creating handovers

So what am I going to do with all this wisdom?

I am going to start a personal experiment

I am thinking of a balanced life in which every day starts with only one specific task to do at this day. Even while I am writing this it feels totally strange. But isn’t one task per day something we would call focus on? With which feelings would I wake up every day if I knew that there is “only“ this one thing to do? What would my head tell me throughout the day? Will I pull more tasks after I finished this one task? How big will be the size of a task to be valued as “the one“ task for a day? How can I realize this experiment and stick to it? I could read books and articles about the outcomes of comparable experiments by someone else. Maybe I could create a special reading-ToDo-List for this topic. Or I find out myself.

I will start by now. I am going to share my experience with you via twitter or maybe in another blogpost, if writing the post will become a task of one day. If you want to share your experience with similar experiments or your thoughts on my experiment or if you want to participate please use the hashtag #onetaskaday, I will do so as well.