Storycrafting 11: How Work in Progress is killing your Work in Progress

Posted on February 13, 2020



A game for authors or other busy people who need to get sh*t done.

In my day job, I coach teams on how to be more collaborative, and more productive. And by “productive” I don’t mean get more work done, I mean create more high quality outcomes. But that is a subtly that perhaps we can discuss at another time.  Or, perhaps I can show you this little game that I use with teams to prove that how we work is as important as what we are working on. Of course you can run this as a thought experiment, just reading through here and being convinced to completely change your life through my shining prose, but you would be the first, and there is nothing like a little visceral demonstration. Take 15 min out of your life to get hours back.

So grab some co-workers, writing friends, or family after dinner and try this. We are going to play a little game.

  1. How long do you think it would take to write down somebody’s first name? Ask your group.
  2. What variables could affect this time? Length? Complexity? Nationality (familiarity with spelling)? How much would these add?
  3. Now you have a range. Multiply the number of people in the group by the longest estimate to write a name. This is your Budget.
  4. Pick one person to be the Writer. Have each person take a turn giving the writer the first letter in their name. As soon as they give the first letter, have them note the time.
  5. Once each person has given the first letter, repeat the process with the second letter, and so on, until all of the names are written. Have each person note the time when their name was done.

How long did it take to write all of the names?

How long did the average name take? (Total time/number of names)

How do these compare to your original estimates?

Okay now we are going to do it again.

  1. This time each person will give their last name, helping the writer write the entire name (you can also do the first name over). The person times this.
  2. Then the next person gives the Writer their whole name, and so on.
  3. Once that is all done, add up again and take the average for each name and the total for all of the names. How does this compare to the original guess?

So, what are the takeaways here?

  • The more things you are trying to do at any given time (called Work in Progress), the longer each piece (also a work in progress ;-)) takes.
  • Doing things in series takes way less time, with far less waste. In other words, hello to the myth of multitasking. Busted!

How does this apply to me? If you are like me, creativity begets creativity and as soon as  you sit down to write (or whatever you do) you get 10 great ideas, all of which you want to explore. Perhaps you have several stories in flight because you just have to capture that idea instead of working on your current piece.

Imagine each “name” was a book. Not only is this taking away from finishing one of them, it’s taking away from finishing any of them. Worse, in the real world, the time  you lose in context shifting, getting back “into the groove” is enormous – i.e. the problem in real life is much, much worse than in the game. Every single time you multi-task and push that finish date to the right, you are pushing out your publication date and reducing the total amount you can make from that piece. Being busy is reducing the the outcomes you produce (finished work that makes money).

So now what? How do I use this to simplify my daily life? Maybe next article I’ll talk about creating a personal kanban for writers


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