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: Done

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

If you’re new to my whole “Agile Life” thing, this is me using Agile (specifically Scrum) to make my life more productive and less stressful.  Let’s talk about a big barrier to success – “Done.”

The latest lesson I want to share is the challenge of figuring out what “Done” is. Yes, trust me, people ask this.

When are you “done” with a task? With a story? With a book? “Done” is important to organizing since that’s when somehting is basically able to go out the door. “Done” is especially challenging if you have radically different work to do, and moreso when doing “personal” Scrum – because the definition of a done LinkedIn profile update and “done” for cleaning the refrigerator are kind of different.

“Done” plagues professional managers and Scrum Masters as well as people in less anal-retentive professions. I have sat in meetings, with grown adults, debating the meaning of “done” for a half hour.

I’ve also debated the exact meanings of the colors red, yellow, and green. I am not proud.

So you need to define “Done” for you and your work. Hopefully it lines up with some other people’s ideas of “Done,” but as this is your life you may have some unique challenges.

Here’s some I had – and how I resolved them:

  • Writing a book consisting of 50 questions. Well I know what the “done” is for the Book, but how do I organize doing these questions? So I decided to write questions in 5-question blocks. “Done” would be five questions ready for the editor. Incorporating edits would be a separate set of tasks.
  • Cleaning a closet meant ‘done’ wasn’t what I thought. Sure having things repacked is one thing, but disposing of the junk was another. As I had some ancient electronics I found disposal wasn’t so easy, so I got it organized in a box. I considered the closet “done” but created a new “story” to dispose of these things – if they were invasive, then it wouldn’t be done.  Plus a good lesson for next time.
  • Designing marketing flyers – This is a bit challenging. First I have to design the flyer, then print it. I made both of these separate tasks, but decided after some thought that “done” would be completion. The service was reliable enough and the design templated enough that if everything was a botch, I’d “re-open” the tasks and start over.

Done is not just important for completion, it’s when you get feedback. My cleaned closet was “Done” but the fact I had to create a separate disposal story was a reminder I hadn’t thought “Done” out too well.

Oh and remember if you have any kind of validation, like software testing or your Church approving your flyer, then you’re not necessarily “done” – it’s in testing. Surprise! You may be finished but not “Done.”

Or you may be arguing about what “done” is.

(Then there’s people asking if they need a definition of “Ready.  Let’s not get into that.)

– Steve