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Work in Progress, Context Switching, and other things

At the moment I think I’m doing quite well limiting my Work In Progress: just working one thing at a time. I’m not doing so well with Context Switching: I’m being moved between projects quite quickly, and I feel like my work is suffering as a result: works feels unfinished, or of a lower quality than I am happy with. Here are some articles that I’ve been reading on the topic.

Limiting Work In Progress

The excellent Personal Kanban site has a “Why Limit Your WIP” Series. In PK Basics: Why Limit Your WIP Series, they talk about What Happens When We Don’t Limit WIP:

Our attention to detail suffers, we leave things unfinished, or compromise the quality of our finished product. All of these outcomes create more work or us in the future.

An excellent way to demonstrate the power of limiting WIP is the Aeroplane game. Karen and Sam of Growing Agile have an excellent write-up of it here: Aeroplane Game.

On Slack

From Slack: Why Limit WIP Series, Post 3:

We need slack for our own optimization. In our work, we’d like to have a degree of slack to:

1. Make sure we are able to focus on the tasks at hand;

2. Make sure we have the capacity to deal with unforeseen events;

3. Make sure we can stop periodically to allow our brains to perform vital functions in memory, processing, and regeneration; and especially to

4. Make sure we don’t work ourselves into an early grave.

On Medium, Marie Poulin talks about slack from a designer’s perspective. She talks about adding margins to leave room for error, growth, planning, and reflection.

The always excellent Alexander Kjerulf writes about slack in his post Why every company needs to give employees Free Time on the job, and includes some practical tips on how to get started.

On Context Switching

Back in 2001, Joel Spolsky talked about task switching in Human Task Switches Considered Harmful:

The trick here is that when you manage programmers, specifically, task switches take a really, really, really long time. That’s because programming is the kind of task where you have to keep a lot of things in your head at once. The more things you remember at once, the more productive you are at programming.

More recently, in The Multi-Tasking Myth, Jeff Atwood talked about distraction and multi-tasking:

We typically overestimate how much we’ll actually get done, and multi-tasking exaggerates our own internal biases even more. Whenever possible, avoid interruptions and avoid working on more than one project at the same time.