Crossing the Finish Line

by Krishna on April 9, 2007

In my previous post, I talked about three different places — the start, the middle and the end — where tasks can be abandoned. Most people are conscious of problems with starting tasks and maintaining the momentum. Few are worried about the problems of not closing out a task in a timely manner, which are:

  1. Bloating the overall time taken for the task, which can affect future estimates for the task.
  2. Reducing the available time for other tasks dependent on the current task.
  3. Creating artificial delays and unnecessary frustration for people waiting for the task.

People have different reasons for delaying the completion of a task when it is apparent that it could be easily be finished. Some of the common ones are:

  1. Not wanting to look idle: Many work environments unknowingly create negative incentives for completing work ahead of time. The person who finishes his work faster gets rewarded with more work. The manager starts questioning the “bloated” estimates given earlier. Management questions whether over-hiring has been done and slowly plan layoffs. Usually the more busy a person seems, the better off he is — regardless of what he is actually getting done.
  2. Striving for perfection: When it comes to reports or documents, some people waste tremendous amount of time nit-picking every part of the document for trivial mistakes. Some others do it designing and programming for extreme scenarios which rarely occur in real life. Sometimes, this behavior results from being afraid to deliver something that can invite negative feedback.
  3. Addiction: Sometimes, a person may have taken a particular liking to something in the current task that they don’t want to move to something else. For example, a salesperson may like the process of selling (meetings, lunches, etc.) more than the tough task of asking a customer to sign off on a deal. I know a developer who was very fond of minor programming hacks (like C pointer coding) that he totally neglected analysis and design to his detriment.

While it is important to do things, it is also essential to know when it is enough, finish and move on.


Fran April 10, 2007 at 2:41 am

Those reasons are logical, especially the "not wanting to look idle". I sure that almost everybody experienced this kind of situation. It's unfair. What is the purpose of doing extra work if you're not getting paid for it?

Alan April 10, 2007 at 7:32 pm

I don't think that striving for perfection is a logical reason. Since there is no reward for a person with the most beautiful report, it would be useless to spend so much time just to give extra effort in making it.

Krishna April 11, 2007 at 4:15 am

@fran, thanks for your comments

@alan, it is not logical, but that is what people sometimes do. They keep working on something even though there is no additional benefit to doing so. The perceived reward is internal satisfaction rather than outward benefits.

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