Yes, I know… resolutions are SO yesterday, aren’t they? Most of the people I know don’t make them anymore, or they choose things they are doing anyway, like “exercise twice a week” instead of saying they’re going to start the new year with a five-mile run every single day.
But there’s one great resolution that makes an incredible difference in our lives: “Stop starting, and start finishing.” Some trace this concept back to the Toyota Production System (TPS), which was established to eliminate waste (in the form of superfluous inventory and inefficient processes) in key areas. TPS looks for every opportunity to tweak tactics, remove unnecessary actions and add efficiency and value during development, production and distribution of the product.
What has occurred to me often in my own journey through a variety of workplaces, and having had the opportunity to view others’ companies up close, is that much of this efficiency and value boomerangs back to a commitment to stop starting, and start finishing. The tech experts I know say often that with software development projects, too much work-in-progress is a liability. They note that as a developer, if you are working on more than two projects at once, productivity can take a dive. In essence, the more tasks that are in play at any given time… the more tasks that are not completed.
Maybe you remember that famous “I Love Lucy” scene, where Lucy and Ethel go to work in the chocolate factory, and because they are able to handle the production line at a moderate speed, their supervisor speeds up the belt, faster and faster, until they are stuffing confections in their mouths and hats to appear as if they are keeping up with the work flow. The chocolates aren’t being packaged properly – and some not at all – even though, for a time, it might appear that the production line was in full swing. In the sitcom environment, that’s great fun - and we don’t give a thought to the wasted product and workplace issues. In the real world, it squanders time and money and skews results – and the best solution is to find the right pace, and even if we can’t limit the amount of work, to rank the work we have before us to address it in the most intelligent manner. Recognizing the different levels of urgency that each task holds - and learning to prioritize with surgical precision - will clear the path to completion.
We are in an environment where it’s not always possible to be choiceful about the tasks we have in play at one time… and we can’t always sidestep work overload. In fact, it’s often hard to recognize it until we’re right in the middle of it. But we gain control by completing one task before making it harder or adding in other variables. Making this one promise to ourselves – to stop starting, and start finishing - rather than compromising our productivity by “eating” our unsuccessful efforts or unfinished tasks (which rarely are as tasty as chocolates!) is a great way to begin a shiny new year.