Sunday, 04 October 2009 00:00

Multitasking Wastes Time

Rate this item
(0 votes)

Multitasking Image How many times have you heard someone say men are poor at multitasking? Well, that is probably a good thing, since multitasking is horribly inefficient. When I first said this in a presentation, people were shocked and took exception to the statement. After a few studies on the subject (summarized in a Harvard Business Review article), people are listening and agreeing. This should be nothing new. Looking at some of the more common methods to reign in red projects—Agile and Critical Chain—one premise they share is dedicating resources.

The Established Theory

In most organizations, this is a very difficult concept to change. It is well ingrained that multitasking is good and expedites work. However, dedicating resources maintains focus, increases efficacy and reduces frustration. Management puts forth the most resistance to dedicating people to tasks. They want to preserve the concept of multitasking so they have the flexibility to quickly reassign resources. What seems odd is that in organizations that insist on multitasking, they still fall back to one common practice—if a project gets in trouble, they immediately ask that resources be dedicated to their tasks. Down deep, management understands that multitasking is inherently inefficient.

Team members love being dedicated to their work. They know they will work more efficiently and with less frustration. Stopping and starting the task adds significant time and risk.

A Simple Example

Critical Chain and Agile methodologies require dedicating resources. Many supporters use an example like that shown in Figure 1. It is the classic diagram to show the effect of multitasking. It shows three separate tasks, each two weeks long, being done by the same person all needing to be done at the same time. In the upper case, the person multitasks. All tasks are late. Task A is completed two weeks late, Task B is three weeks late and Task C is four weeks late. The average is three weeks late.

In the lower case, the person is dedicated to the tasks and perform them uninterrupted. Task A is done on time, Task B is done two weeks late and Task C is done four weeks late. Only two tasks are late, the average being two weeks late, a week earlier than multitasking.

Comparing the two concepts in another way, Task A is done two weeks earlier than when multitasking (actually completed on time), Task B is done two weeks late (a week earlier than when multitasking) and Task C is four weeks late (no different than when multitasking). This simple diagram shows how poor the concept multitasking is.

Where is Common Sense?

Common sense backs up the studies. However, common sense seems to be failing in most organizations. What managers need to do is to assign priorities to the work and stop the interruptions. Close examination of many of the interruptions shows that knee-jerk reactions, asking people to switch tasks, are made with too little data. The key to well run organizations is allowing people to complete their current assignment before switching to a demand driven task.

About That Gender Bias

Back to the opening premise about men being poor at multitasking, this is a classic sexist comment, not about men, per se, but about homemakers. Yes, it comes from the fact that most women are homemakers, even if they haves a full-time jobs. The homemaker (male or female) has to multitask. Efficiency is of minimal concern, the home is. If the two year-old center of your life is about to climb the book shelf, grab a butcher knife, pour super glue on your cell phone or feed oatmeal to the DVD player, the effective homemaker better stop doing bills and switch tasks at a instant’s notice, diverting the required attention to the little bundle of joy. It may take longer to do the chores, however potential disaster is averted. As my dear Mom used to say, "The housework will still be here tomorrow."

Read 6139 times

Related items

  • Strategy-Execution Gaps

    The statistics on strategy execution are dismal:

    • 59% of middle managers fail at resolving conflicts in corporate strategy.
    • 45% of middle managers cannot name one of the top five corporate goals.
    • 64% of cross department/functional issues are poorly resolved.

    And maybe as you could expect from this:

    • 53% of companies cannot react timely to new opportunities.

    You do not need to be a rocket scientist to know that this trajectory is not going to launch most companies’ latest strategic plans successfully. In fact, these data might make you feel that middle management would be better suited as test dummies for the next generation of manned space-vehicle. Granted, the data show there is a dearth of leadership in middle management, but executive tier has a culpable hand.

  • Process Mapping

    Process is at the core of any business. It makes work predictable, repeatable, and transferable. Without it we cannot scale our businesses. However, process can be a bane to making progress. Processes that work for a $10 million company have difficulties supporting a $30 million company. Trying to scale them to a $300 million company will not only fail but not address the issues that larger companies have that were never dreamt of in a smaller organization. Processes need to be discarded, revamped, and built—all of that without creating an overburdening bureaucracy.

    Anytime you need to go someplace, you first have to know where you are. Processes are never static and your company's current state is probably far from where you think it is. Hence, the first step is mapping out you company's current state followed by defining the future state. This is more than a logical map of the process; it must also include physical maps. Whether your process is solely to provide a service (say, website development) or physical (say, manufacturing) there are logistical issues that complicate the process flow. Without fully understanding those nuances, future state processes will not reach the desired efficiencies.

    For more information about process mapping fill out the form to the left and we will get in touch with you.

  • Success vs Culture

    The other day a Latvian student contacted me for my views the connection between culture and success criteria—an important and intriguing topic. After working in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, and Canada, I wear many scars of both blatant and subtle cultural violations. I also know that within a culture one person's success is often another person's failure. So, after dispelling concerns about clicking on some random email link, I completed her survey (please feel free to take it yourself). In the process, I struck up a friendship with the student, Kristine Briežkalne, who is studying at Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration . She has some interesting views and presented me with a Venn diagram showing four frames to a project (business, client, project management, and growth perspectives) and how they intersected. As the diagram is part of her Master's thesis, I will let you ponder the how to label the overlapping areas (an eye-opening exercise).

  • Kill The White Knight

    There is a reason we do not teach classes on fixing failing projects. Many a cynic feels that we simply do not want to teach our trade, however, our reason is far nobler—we should be teaching prevention rather trying to create white knights to save the day. It is the same philosophy as building a fence at the cliff's edge rather than an emergency room at its base. Our language is replete with idioms telling us to look past the symptom and address problems at their root cause. 'An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure' or 'a stitch in time saves nine.' Please, feel free to supply your own in the comments. Unfortunately, most of our businesses loathe this philosophy, waiting to address an issue until it is irrefutably broken.

  • The Executive-Project Manager Gap

    It was such an innocuous question, "Working on an article; what is the biggest problem you see with project governance at orgs? Can you comment?" Can I comment? Really? That is like cheese to a mouse. Where could I start—bureaucracy, draconian process, poor executive sponsorship, disengaged leaders? Plenty of fodder, because they all lead to project failure. I fired off, "Creating an over bureaucratic morass stifling innovation & implementing process instead of cultivating leaders." Then the maelstrom started and it went directly to the gap between the executives and projects managers. Naomi Caietti, Robert Kelly and I had a great conversation. Most of the thread is below.

Leave a comment

Filling Execution Gaps

Available Worldwide

Filling Exectution Gaps cover

Filling Execution Gaps is available worldwide. Below are some options.

 

PG DirectLogo
Limited Time Price $20.99
Amazon logo
Book or Kindle
Flag of the United States Canadian Flag Flag of the United Kingdom Irish Flag Deutsche Flagge
Drapeau Français Bandiera Italiana PRC flag
Japanese flag
Bandera de España
Flag of India
Bandera de México
Bandeira do Brasil
Flag of Australia
Vlag van Nederland
DeG Press Logo
Barnes and Noble Logo
Books a Million Logo
Booktopia Logo
Worldwide: Many other
book sellers worldwide.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.

Sitemap