Why it’s hard to get stuff done

Do you ever find you’re swamped by thousands of tiny things that stop you from ever making any real progress?

In software this sort of thing happens pretty often. Perhaps more often than in other industries — we’ve even come up with a handy name for those awkward niggles. “Blockers” are our catch-all excuse for not moving forward.

It can be tempting to leave it at that, and work on something else. When we encounter a problem we side-step it. We must “make progress” on something else, while we wait for the problem to resolve itself. Our work ends up looking something like this:

All those exes represent half-finished stuff that we leave hanging around. With any luck we might finish one of those things, but it certainly looks like we’re starting more than we’re finishing, doesn’t it?

If we continue to start more than we finish, we’ll find that things pile up. And before we know it we’ll be over-run with half finished bits of work that cloud our view of what’s important.

That’s when we start fire-fighting, and desperately picking off bits of work for whoever shouts loudest.

This is a horrible way to live our lives.

This situation is something we all need to work hard to avoid. The solution is simple to describe, but hard to do. Just finish something before you start something. Stop jumping between work streams and focus on something to completion.

The hard part is that might mean working on nothing at all until your blocker is resolved. The best teams learn to recognise these situations, and come together to overcome the problem as quickly as possible. By focusing on clearing road blocks in this way, you will ultimately finish and deliver something.

And one thing delivered is absolutely better than ten things half finished.


Jez Halford is a software development consultant helping teams to deliver better software, more frequently. Visit jezhalford.com to find out more.

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