Jake Worth

Jake Worth

"What Would Finishing This Today Look Like?"

Published: November 09, 2023 • Updated: November 20, 2023 2 min read

  • shipping

When I’m feeling sluggish at work, I have a great hack: asking “What would finishing this today look like?”

It’s a version of one of Tim Ferriss’ favorite questions:

“‘What would this look like if it were easy?’ If I feel stressed, stretched thin, or overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m overcomplicating something or failing to take the simple/easy path because I feel I should be trying ‘harder’…”

Recently, I was building a complex web form, with brand-new APIs, in a sophisticated SPA, with scant and conflicting stakeholder input. I’d been slogging through requirements-gathering for days, and yet felt like shipping was still far off. So, I asked: “What would finishing this today look like?” I answered with backward-planning: start at the finish line and work backward to now.

At the finish line, I’m deploying the feature for acceptance before the end of the day, about 4 PM. That will give me time to ensure it’s deployed, test it, document details, deliver the work, and maybe address feedback.

Before that, I need it to pass code review. That won’t be a bottleneck, happily. My team reviews quickly, we’re synced on execution, I preempt nitpicks by reviewing my code, and I attach screenshots so that I can get instant design feedback. But maybe I’ll merge with one review, not two or more.

Before that, I need to finish the feature. This is where I’m stuck! To be easy, I’d need to:

  • Move forward. Do the next right thing, commit, and repeat.
  • Get it working, then make it look good. Focus on submitting the form, imperfect as it may be, then refine it.
  • Have our backend engineers quickly alter the API as needed.
  • Ignore some details in the behavior that aren’t documented and I don’t know if anyone wants.
  • Write some basic automated tests. This lets me iterate and respond to feedback knowing I’m not breaking everything.

Visualizing this gives me a concrete checklist. It helps me to be proactive, over-communicate, sidestep middlemen, do things right the first time, abandon busywork, move fast, and possibly break things. Which is how I always want to work. I just needed a reset.

What are your thoughts on this mental model? Let me know!

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