3 Tips for Limiting Your Work-in-Progress

Want to get work done? Then do this!

You have probably heard the phrase “Stop starting; Start Finishing!” — this phrase gets thrown around a lot in Agile (especially in Kanban), and it’s really great advice. However, like a lot of advice, it’s often easier said than done. Even after setting your Work-in-Progress (WIP) limits, they can be difficult to enforce, but here are 3 tips that have worked for me.

When there are several items outstanding, it’s tempting to “get started” on all of them. That way, if a manager comes along and asks about the status of Tasks A, B, and C, you can confidentially say they’re all in progress. Isn’t that great?

If you are starting several tasks at the same time you get often overwhelmed in choosing which one is now more important. So you are running in circles trying wo work on all topics at the same time.

As a engineer, your day is probably filled with distractions: meetings, “urgent” requests, and coworkers popping by just to chat. When you do get time to focus, it’s important to approach your work in a way that’s conducive to getting things done. Here is how I personally like to structure my time.

Step 1 – I structure my day on a piece of paper

-> First I wirte down all my important meetings I need to join during the day.
-> Then I note the 3 most important tasks which needs to be worked on.
-> Next I set my timer for 10 minutes to check my inbox for very urgent stuff.

Step 2 – I work on my 3 most important tasks

The first hours in the morning everyone is usually very productive. So I try to do the important stuff within the first 2 hours without any distraction. So I don’t get lost in my email inbox till lunch. I just screen 10 minutes for very urgent topics and then stop.

If I find something which is more important then the 3 tasks I considered before, I just change the tasks accordingly. I will then try to do the one task which I skipped later today.

After checking very fast my inbox, I start with my 3 tasks.
One important task can consist of several small tasks. So I do all the small things till I finished my first milestone. Done!

Step 3 – Always come back to your 3 most important tasks

Here is the key to my productivity!

I know everyday is different and nothing usually goes as planned.
Sometimes everything falls apart and everyone wants something from you.
The big difference is how you go back to work!

When everything has calmed down a bit you have to find your focus again.
Look on your paper and start at one of the 3 important tasks you have planned for today.
This is the hard part of pure productivity which makes the difference.

Most people unwind after a stressful hour with some email reading.
Then you start to answer some really unimportant emails and forget about your plan of today.
Next time you look at the clock, it’s already time to go home.


This is a very easy and effective way to be very productive on the important things.
It is easy to get lost in email or in chatting with your colleguages.
If you have a plan and can stick to it, you will got so much things done within a week.

As said the hard and productive part is always to go back to your important task instead of douing some easy stuff.

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