Archive for March 2nd, 2012


Doing more by doing less

I use to have a regular disagreement with someone in my life who believed that multitasking was the best way to get things done. All I saw was multiple things half done and often done poorly. I prefer to focus on one thing at a time, and get it done…or mostly get it done. I often get bored at the end and leave the last 5% unfinished. It is this bias that lead me to flag the following two articles. When I bookmarked the second article I had forgotten about the first article and was amused when I discovered I had the author twice in my list on Springpad.

The first article is “How to Accomplish More by Doing Less” by Tony Schwarz. I particularly like this article because it calls out the benefits of a mid-afternoon nap. I know when I am tired that I spend more time struggling to stay awake than doing whatever task is at hand. I usually end up losing the battle and having a series of ‘micro-naps’. If I do the smart thing, stop and have a nap, then I am quickly back in productivity mode. I still struggle though with setting aside blocks of time to focus on stuff. I leave my email open and my browser which means I am constantly flipping over to read the latest email or check the latest article in my RSS feed reader.

The second article, ‘“No” is the New “Yes”: Four Practices to Reprioritize Your Life‘, is also by Tony Schwarz. The highlight of this article is the importance of saying “No” to meeting requests. I often hear this complaint from colleagues and I always encourage people to say “No”. I don’t think that many people listen to me though. It is easy to fill your calendar with meetings, particularly in a organization that tends towards process heavy. At times, in the twenty plus years our product has existed, mistakes were made and processes introduced to catch those mistakes. This is great but we are slowly sinking beneath the weight. I don’t think it is going to drown us though as the culture is changing and the burden is lifting. That said, the default method of getting input, or resolving issues is to call a meeting of everyone who might have some input. Productivity killer!

Productivity is something I think a lot about and something I want to enhance in both myself and those around me. If I can reduce the number of hours required to generate value for the company to offset my cost of my employment then I can use those ‘free’ hours to learn new things that further my ability to generate value for the company.

The one thing that I found lacking in the above articles was links to any of the studies that measure the cost of context switching. For example, here is a study that shows multi-tasking students achieve lower marks. This lack of scientific support, unfortunately, appears to be rather common. I can find dozens of blogs and articles on the negative impact of context switching however it takes some real digging to find the studies that support these claims. They are out there, you just have to dig and be prepared to pay to read the studies. I didn’t feel any desire to pay so didn’t include any links here and if interested check out Psychological Science.

And a side note to multitasking, yes, a study did prove that women are better at multitasking then men however it didn’t then compare multitasking to single tasking.

I know multitasking and distractions hurt my ability to get stuff done so if I ignore your phone call, or take a while to respond to your email it is because I am getting stuff done.

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