Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lessons from Project Management - Multitasking

The Cult of Multitasking

Multitasking - Helping You Get MORE things Unfinished




My wife loves multitasking, many others out there seem to as well. There's this idea that by doing only one thing at a time, you're really not being as productive as you could be. In reality, multitasking just ensures you finish tasks later, and have more things partially finished than if you focused on completing one task at a time.

Let's use an example, say you are organizing your home and you have four areas that need organizing, the: living room, bathroom, garage and kitchen. Let's say each area takes 4 days worth of effort. Below is a Gannt chart that shows progress over time for two different people completing the same set of four tasks.



Dave, starts one room, focuses on it completely, and then moves to the next.
Dodo, splits his/her time across all four rooms equally, spending 25% of each day working on each room.

As you can see, after 8 days in, Dave has finished two areas while Dodo hasn't finished anything. Dodo doesn't get anything finished until 16 days have passed.

While this is a simple example, there are a few things it doesn't factor in that make multitasking even worse. If you're working on something, don't you find it takes some initial mental energy as well as time to get back into it? In our simple example, we haven't factored in that Dodo has to walk to each of the four areas, everyday! David has to go only go into one area, and has 1/4 of the travel time Dodo does.

In the real world there are also consequences to things taking too long, a simple example (and something that caught me recently) is library books. If you take out multiple books, read them simultaneously, but can't finish all of them before they have to go back you are out of luck.

Multi-Tasking + Procrastination = Never ever get anything finished!

Whenever you start something new, it's exciting, it's (by definition) new, you're engaged and happy to work on it. As time passes, you may grow bored, or less interested and spend less and less time. It's easy to procrastinate and switch to another task, but maybe you'll never switch back? You can justify to yourself that you're "busy", because you're working on something else. The above simple example assumes that Dodo can keep interested in organizing all four rooms, for 16 straight days. What happens if the Dodo can't? Instead Dodo partially finishes each room, before moving to new areas of the house, leaving a trail of partially finished work.

Taking Action! Stop the scourge of Multi-Tasking

Being reminded of this in a PM course, finding more than a few blog posts that weren't finished, and having to return several library books unfinished, has galvanized me to stop multi-tasking.


My aim is to divide my personal tasks into two categories: maintenance, and development.

Maintenance tasks are things like doing dishes, cooking, cleaning, socializing and emailing. These are tasks that need to be done on a regular basis, and can't be put off for long periods without negative consequences. If the dishes aren't done, the house will be a mess and my wife will file legal action. If I don't cook breakfast daily, I'll be hungry, etc.

Development tasks are things which can be put off and for me area tasks like reading, writing blog entries, working on a PM course, writing an app, home improvement, misc-hobbies, etc. These tasks are not critically time sensitive.

From now on, any time I spent on "Development" tasks, will be completely focused on one item, until that item is completely done or there is no possible way to continue working on it. For example, if for my course I complete my portion of a group assignment and send it off for editing, then I may switch to another task. However, if I start reading a book, I will not do anything else until that book is completely finished.

We'll see how this works, but after focusing on tidying up a group assignment, and getting this blog finished (even when tired after working late on Friday, and wanting to procrastinate and start a new book), I already feel like I'm completing more than I was before.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

We Are All Richer Through Trade - Trading With Friends and Family

Source: de:Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände auff Erden, hoher und nidriger, geistlicher und weltlicher, aller Künsten, Handwercken und Händeln ..." from Jost Amman and Hans Sachs /Frankfurt am Main / 1568 / thanks to www.digitalis.uni-koeln.de
Early Trade - (Image is in the Public Domain)


One of the core tenets of economics, is everyone is richer through voluntary trade. Trade allows for more choices, if two parties agree to trade, they are doing so because it benefits both of them.

I've posted before on here about Kijiji being a way to make money and ensure items can be re-used. Some of you may not be interested in selling online to a stranger due to perceived hassel, or safety concerns. Wouldn't you have no problem selling, or giving away, items to your friends? Isn't it much better that someone in your family or friends gets an item rather than it goes in the garbage? Or to a thrift shop?

The couch in my living room, came from a friend who needed to get rid of it to clear some space. I traded a case of beer for the couch, and we were both happy to make the trade. If I hadn't have happened to callup this old friend, he would've thrown the couch in the trash.

What ways are there to facilitate more trade between friends? Is this something that you are doing? Or anyone is doing? What about between co-workers? Your workplace is somewhere where tens to thousands of people head to everday, isn't there a chance you can trade items with these people, without any extra transportation required? You bring a DVD to work, they trade you for another.

If you already have items on Kijiji or Craig's List, sending your friends a link to all your items would be one option.

Alternatively, sharing photo's of items you no longer want in a Google Drive spreadsheet or Flickr photo site. Does a broadcast on Facebook work?

What about services? If you don't want to cut your own lawn, wouldn't it make more sense to poll your friends and family first? What about transportation to the airport? Or a math tutor for your kids? You may think your friends and family aren't interested, but perhaps they would be? Your friends and family would only take the trade if it made sense, but by never presenting the trade you never know what missed internal trading opportunities there are between friends and family.

The number of trade opportunities with friends that have by chance worked out (see couch example) makes me wonder how many other opportunities are missed out on. I'd really love to hear if anyone has formalized this among co-workers, friends of family and how well it's done.