You Have a WIP Limit of One

Do you ever feel like you’ve got too many coals in the fire? In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to feel like we need to be doing a million things at once. We have our work duties, our family responsibilities, our passions or hobbies and our rest and relaxation all fighting for the same 24 hours in a day. But the truth is, we can only do one thing at a time. We have a WIP (Work In Progress) limit of one, and it’s time to start embracing that fact.

When we try to do too many things at once, we’re not giving any of them our full attention. We’re spreading ourselves too thin, and the result is often subpar work and a feeling of dissatisfaction. We need to start limiting the amount of things we’re working on and focus on doing one thing at a time. On a Kanban board, if a WIP limit is set and the number of items being worked is higher than the limit, all sorts of red flags get raised. It’s time to raise the red flag on your own duties and rein in the number of things you’re working on at one time.

Research shows that when we work on multiple tasks at once, we’re actually reducing our cognitive load capacity. Cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort required to complete a task. When we’re working on too many things at once, we’re essentially overloading our brains, which can lead to decreased productivity and increased stress.

In his book, “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results,” author Gary Keller explains the importance of focusing on one thing at a time. He says, “The truth is, multitasking is a lie. It’s a lie because nearly everyone accepts it as an effective thing to do. It’s not. Research has shown that multitasking reduces productivity by 40%.”

So, what can we do to embrace our WIP limit of one and start achieving better results? Here are a few tips:

  1. Make a list and prioritize it. Write down everything you need to do and then prioritize it. Start with the most important task and work your way down the list. This will help you stay focused and ensure that you’re working on the most important things first.
  2. Limit distractions. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer, close unnecessary tabs and apps, and find a quiet place to work. This will help you stay focused on the task at hand and reduce cognitive load.
  3. Give yourself permission to take breaks. Taking breaks can actually help you be more productive in the long run. When you take a break, you’re giving your brain a chance to rest and recharge, which can help you stay focused and motivated.
  4. Embrace the power of saying no. We often feel like we have to say yes to everything that comes our way, but that’s simply not true. It’s okay to say no to things that aren’t a priority or that will add unnecessary stress to your life. Always finish the things you promise you will do, but then hold your time more sacred in the future.

By embracing our WIP limit of one, we can achieve better results, reduce stress, and feel more satisfied with our work. When we focus on one thing at a time, we’re giving that task our full attention and effort, which leads to better outcomes.

If you’re interested in learning more about cognitive load and WIP limits, there are plenty of great resources available. One article that’s worth a read is “How WIP Brings Down the Cognitive Burden” by Debopom Sanyal. In this article, Sanyal explains WIP limits at work, which can easily be applied to our lives.

Another great resource is “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time” by Tony Schwartz. In this article, Schwartz explains the importance of focusing on one task at a time and offers tips for staying focused and productive.

Personally, I have applied this idea in my own life and this has brought down my cognitive load greatly, as well as reduced stress and, most importantly of all, it helps me to actually be myself, even when I’m in the middle of chaos. When I’m myself, others feel more comfortable and calm as well. They even find humor in otherwise stressful situations. If you find yourself not able to really enjoy being yourself, do yourself a favor and set your WIP limit to ONE and stick to it.

1 thought on “You Have a WIP Limit of One”

  1. It’s very hard to imagine applying this while raising 11 children but I think I was able to apply it well at times. I did dishes myself because no one else would bother me at the sink. They were afraid I’d make them help. I cut the grass…alone. Same reasoning. I’d slip out and take a walk, alone and unnoticed, when dad got home from work. I’d do my meditating after everyone went to bed and I was up with the baby. Of course, I had to prioritize all my duties first thing in the morning. I’m still sane and now enjoying my “retirement” Guess I proved your theory.

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