4.1 Some Thoughts About Multitasking

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But the trick is you've got to do your work exactly as I tell you to do it, and I'm super demanding, and I'm only gonna give you 15 seconds to complete all three projects. But if you really do participate in a WebEx while reading your email, and shuffling through papers, and eating your lunch, or texting your best friend something is going to suffer. This way, you're gonna cut down on your switching costs, and when you do have a choice, then make the effort to work on one thing at a time.

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Are you a good multitasker? We’re gonna take a little test. You have three projects that have been assigned to you. Project 1 requires you to write the letter A through J in a single column. Project 2 requires you to write the numbers one through ten in a single column. Don’t start doing it just yet by the way. Project 3 requires you to write the roman numeral I through X in a single column. Now together all three look like this. You got Project 1 with a column, Project 2 with a column, and Project 3 with a column. But the trick is you’ve got to do your work exactly as I tell you to do it, and I’m super demanding, and I’m only gonna give you 15 seconds to complete all three projects. You’ve gotta do the work the way I tell you to do the work. Right now I tell you that you must work this way. You have to fill in the A for Project 1 and the 1 for Project 2 and then the I for Project 3. And you can go back to the next row and fill in the B for 1, the 2 for 2, and the II for 3. And you’ve got to complete your work this way going from one project to the next, skipping across. So now, get ready because I’m gonna give you 15 seconds. Okay, are you finished? What? Why not? Okay, I’m difficult, but I’m not a complete jerk. I’m gonna give you another chance. This time, you can finish all of Project 1, then Project 2, then Project 3. Now get ready, because I’m gonna give you your 15 seconds. How did you do this time? Even if you didn’t finish, you most likely accomplished much more than the first time. And this is an example of what happens when you multitask. You skip around from task to task and you’re just not as effective as when you can concentrate on one thing at a time. This does not mean that you should never have more than one assignment at a time. Don’t go telling your management that they can only ask you to do one thing cause that’s not the point. That’s going to be career limiting. To do two things at once though, is to do neither. This is a quote from a Roman philosopher from 100 CE. Multitasking, think when you are writing your status report or you’re on a WebEx, or your texting your best friend and you think you’re doing so much more at once. But if you really do participate in a WebEx while reading your email, and shuffling through papers, and eating your lunch, or texting your best friend something is going to suffer. And you’re really not doing all of these things at the same time. You’re probably going to make some kind of embarrassing mistake. What you do is you pay the price for multitasking in what we call switching cost. So what is Switching Cost? It’s the time it takes for you to transition from one thing to another, and then to another, and then back again. I come to you, let’s say, and I say, work on task A. Then I come back 15 minutes later. I say, no, sorry, work on task B. An hour later I call you and I say, what are you doing? Would you please work on task C? And at the end of the day I come back to you. And I say, well did you ever finish task A? No? Well get on it. Every time you go in and out of task A, you need time to reacquaint yourself with the task. Time to remember where you were, what you were doing, and what you need to do next. So this is your switching cost. And it means that although task A could take two hours, it may take you up to three if I keep pulling you in and out of it. And putting you back to work on it, and doing something else, and back and forth. The best approach is to try and focus on one thing at a time. Then transition to the next task. In fact a common theme in all of the tips that you might be thinking about highly productive people and highly successful people is focus and discipline. So let’s see how that plays out. You’re working on something, and your manager comes to you and says stop it, work on this other thing instead. Do you look at them and say no? No, not until I finish this. You are forcing me to be inefficient. You may or may not really be able to have that kind of conversation with your manager. Maybe what you can do is take a few moments before you transition away to the next task. And leave yourself some notes as to where you were and how to pick up back again. For example, if you’re in the middle of writing something. I said this earlier. Leave a note at the top of the document with a reminder. Or if it’s something on your desk, put a note on top of it with instructions as to how to resume your work. This way, you’re gonna cut down on your switching costs, and when you do have a choice, then make the effort to work on one thing at a time. When you are writing, then write. When you’re talking on your phone, turn your back to your computer and just talk on your phone. End results is that you’ll be more productive and you’re gonna feel less fragmented and you’re gonna make fewer mistakes. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground in our time together. You can bring it all together. And the results can be very, very powerful. We have discussed having a Work Plan, and hopefully now you do or you’re doing it. You’re starting it. We have covered understanding and setting priorities. You now know the secret to Work-Life Balance, be careful who you share it with. You have been given the opportunity to really pay attention to how you spend your time. And you have an approach to figure out your strategic reserve time or the time that is left after you handle your normal responsibilities. We have discussed Estimating and keeping similar data together and performing Similar Tasks at the same time. We have even considered the impact Time of Day can make on your productivity. What’s left? What’s left is for you to bring all the information together and leverage it. So that you can create a plan that supports you and your goals and helps you use your time in the best way possible. Because remember that’s what this was all about. And is likely that you’ve realized that you might want to make some changes and that’s wonderful. Guess what? A plan can help you with that too. You know what else will help you with that? Clear priorities. So select one to three changes that you think are going to be the most helpful to you and work on those. Don’t select more than three cause it’s too much and it’s not fair to yourself. How does this work? You know I have a story, right? So, a client of mine, she was once really embarrassed because her colleagues commented to her about the fact that she was always late for meetings. And the comment that really hit her was that someone said that other than being late all the time she really seemed to be like a true professional. And that just struck her to her core. And here’s what she did. She set an initial goal to be on time for 95% of all of her meetings and she created a goal that was measurable, 95% of all of her meetings. She tracked her meetings. Now she was a person who carried a work plan and a calendar around with her and what she did is if she was on time, she’d give herself a star next to that meeting. And if she wasn’t, she’d give herself a check mark. Now she had to hold herself to an honor system here, right? At the end of the week, she counted all of the meetings and calculated what number represented 95% of her meetings. And then she counted all her stars and all her checks and if the number of stars met or exceeded 95%, she hit her goal. When she hit her goal, she allowed herself to sleep in an extra 30 minutes on Saturday morning. If not, no extra sleep in time for her. So you can do something like this too. Set a goal, make sure it’s measurable, give yourself support, you know, to get to the meetings on time, she had an alarm set and buzzers going off and different things, so she would get there on time. Keep track, have a reward for when you meet your goal, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. Just look at your results to see if there’s something you can do differently. And try again. With that thought in mind, go be fabulous. Thank you.

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