The Ability To Know The End

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While editing “A School of Many Futures” last night, I realized I could see the end in sight. For a minute, the world froze as I knew the book would be done. It’s strange to have the bolt of inspiration not be “the start” but “oh, good, this’ll be done.”

Sometimes it seemed I wouldn’t complete it – and the Pandemic didn’t help. I had written the book, rewritten it, had it edited, rewrote it during editing, edited it, and took prereader input. It seemed like it’d be forever, even as time ticked down on my well-constructed timeline.

This lightning bolt of understanding led me to another realization – the ability to know something is done is a skill.

I work in the software industry, where many people advocate for a “Definition of Done” for parts of projects. The idea is that you should know what means a program, update, etc. is ready to go. After all, if you don’t know what “done” is, when do you stop?

(I’m sure that sounds familiar to many writers and artists.)

I know people who are just good at done. They can assess end states, itemize needs, and figure out where you need to go. I’m sure you have something you’re good at where you can know done. That skill might not exist in every part of your life.

In the case of my novel, between the Pandemic and challenging myself, I hadn’t asked what “Done” was. In fact, I hadn’t done it for my first novel as well. Clearly, this was a skill I could develop.

I don’t have this problem with my nonfiction work. Perhaps I find such ease because it’s very technical, or that fiction has much more potential. Perhaps my return to fiction is showing gaps in my knowledge. Either way, I’ve found a skill to build.

Perhaps I can start by creating Definitions of Done for my work.

How good are you at figuring out “done?”

Steven Savage

Steve’s Agile Life: Work Complete

(This column is posted at, and Steve’s Tumblr)

So more on my “Agile Life” experiment where I use the Agile techniques in Scrum for a more productive, less-stressful life.  This is all about getting things done – so let’s talk about something we don’t often think of, limiting how much we complete in a day or a time period.

Remember when I talked about WIP, work in progress? That’s measuring “what’s not yet done,” and reducing it usually helps productivity and reveals problems.  But I found something related you want to pay attention to.

How much work gets completed in a day and over time.

I began noticing sometimes I’d deliver regular amounts of work, sometimes huge lumps. I came to realize that monitoring how much you get done in a time period – often a day – helps you improve your agility and your work.

Here’s what it can reveal:


It Can Reveal Overload

I’m going Agile and it means I’m getting more done.  That makes sense; I’m clear on what to do and what’s next, I can adapt to change, and because of all this I feel less pressure.  Yet, at times, I’m feeling kind of stressed despite improvements.

I realize now that this is because I kept looking for the next thing to do.  The productivity had become habitual and addictive, and I kept trying to move more to “done” – bringing more stress back to a process that’s supposed to reduce it.

This can be worse if you have well-defined stories and tasks. You can blaze through them relatively easily. You can get them to “done” pretty quick. I had a day “off” where I got a lot of work done as I had it broken down well – and then realized “hey, I am tired.” That spike in my cumulative flow was a reminder to go play some Overwatch.

It Can Reveal Bottlenecks

Those sudden droughts and onslaughts of completed work can reveal bottlenecks in your work and your plans.  This is usually heralded by a block of Work In Progress, but isn’t always.

Let’s say you’ve had to write three articles for three websites, sending them each out to editors, each at a different time. You’re getting work done while you wait, maybe keeping your Work In Progress from getting too high – then bang, all the articles come back at once.  Turns out they’re all great, you just have to sign off, but that’s stressful.  It shows your editors may be a bottleneck and you need consistent response time.

Also that sudden onslaught of “done” can be disruptive and jarring – context switching.

It Can Reveal Poor Breakdown

You’re working on all sorts of tasks, from painting a table to writing a book, but it seems they get done in huge lumps.  This might be a sign of poor breakdown – you’re delivering enormous “chunks” of work as you’ve got it set up to be worked on in enormous chunks.  Maybe your stories can be broken down into smaller pieces of value to do.

This can happen in “Agile Life” pretty easy as we may not think of breaking down tasks we’re used to – or lump similar ones into one pile.

It Can Reveal Forgotten Work

This happened to me a great deal in my first “Month Sprint” of April 2017. I noticed some of my erratic delivery and then, when asking myself what I did that day, realizing I’d done a lot of tasks that probably should have been in my backlog. If you see erratic delivery of work, it may mean you should be capturing more work.

This was a real revelation to me – because once I started capturing this work (a mix of social events, obligations, and my cooking schedule), my stress dropped. I was more aware of my goals and time commitment and could plan better and be more agile.


So beyond workload and work in progress, keep an eye on how much is getting “done” each day. It may reveal some problems in your plans and give you new ways to improve.

This recalls The 8th Agile Principle the value of a good, sustainable, pace of work.

– Steve