Capacity, Flow and Separation

I recently read Personal Kanban, which I thoroughly recommend, especially if you want to get away from the tyranny of to-do lists. In other words, I’d recommend it to everyone.

One of the themes of the book is the distinction between capacity and flow; neatly described in terms of road traffic. A road at full capacity – in other words with no space between the cars – doesn’t move at all. A road with adequate space between the cars will flow.

Put this way it’s clear how disadvantageous it is for things that need to move to be at full capacity. Full capacity is great for a glass of wine, not so good for living.

The space between tasks is as essential part of doing things better rather than just doing more. In Kanban this space largely relies upon being disciplined with the amount of Work in Progress (WiP), i.e. the number of tasks that are supposedly being actioned at the same time.

But this approach to work, creating thinking/breathing/enjoying space, means much more. By making this space we start to see the individual parts of our work; we start to see the separation between one thing and another. And moving from lists to defined entities changes our perspective.

So the concept of work/life balance is shown to be a very blunt instrument indeed. Our days are full of individual tasks, none of which wholly encapsulate either work or “life”. And neither an unbroken continuum nor polar opposites are effective ways to view them.

By focusing on separation, the line between one thing and another, it’s possible to give everything the respect it deserves, however much space we’re able to create for ourselves.

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