How to Reduce Waiting Waste (Exercise)

Train Station Clock. This image is CC0!

The first step to reduce waiting waste is to get a useful to-do list. Having an inventory of to-dos in your mind will never allow you to manage it properly.

Exercise 14: Make a small list of to-dos, between a handful and a dozen items. Just take what comes up spontaneously. It can be anything, big or small. Behind every item note since when you know it should be done.

You have a list of to-dos now. Maybe you already have such a list, which is a lot longer, but we continue to work with this short list. You can apply the following procedures to lists of any length. What we are going to do next is to process this list. For each item, there are five options.

Five Ds to remember: Do, Delay, Delegate, Delete, Divide
  • Do. Do it at once. You can always apply this to all items which take less than five minutes. For longer work, it depends on your current circumstances.
  • Delay. Plan an execution date in your calendar, reserving enough time to complete it.  This increases waiting waste, but in a controlled manner.
  • Delegate. Find somebody who is willing to do the job for you. Cross out the to-do and put another to-do either in your list or in your calendar, which basically is “Check for result of delegated task.” This increases waiting waste too, but controllable, and it reduces your own work load.
  • Delete. Some to-dos may just be obsolete, or duplicates of other items, or you do not want to do it anymore. If you do this often, ask yourself why deleted items appeared in the list in the first place.
  • Divide. Some tasks are so big you will always move them from day to day without doing anything. Then you are not managing your to-dos, but your waiting. I call that waste management. The solution is to split big tasks into easily doable ones. Do this in three steps.
    • The first step is to divide very big tasks in three to five smaller chunks. Preferably, these chunks are doable one after another.
    • Second step: take the first of the big chunks and divide it into two parts. One part shall be an action that can be performed quickly and that will be your next step towards the big task. The other part is the remainder of the first chunk.
    • Third step: Apply the other four Ds on the results. I call this approach “How to eat an elephant?” (because the answer to that question is “Bite by bite!”) You have increased your inventory waste, but you have at least identified something which can be done easily.

Exercise 15: Take the to-do list from the last exercise and try out the five Ds. You should aim to find an application for all five options. Continue this until your to-do list is empty.

You may find that especially the first D, doing things at once does not come easy. If you found nothing to do at once, look again. Maybe you can divide one of the delayed tasks and do something right now.

Seasoned readers of self-improvement books may ask about procrastination right now. You could say that waiting waste is a symptom for procrastination. In Lean Self, I would put it the other way round: procrastination is a symptom for lack of self-empowerment.

Procrastination is a symptom, not a root cause.

If you apply all Lean Self principles, you will find the root causes for procrastination. Eliminate those root causes and your procrastination will vanish automatically.

Including this sentence, I have used the word “procrastination” seven times now. That is enough. From a Lean Self point of view that topic is overrated. It just focuses on the negative instead of looking forward. Fearing the length of your to-do list is the main reason for procrastination. Oops, eight times.

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