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  • The Myth of Multi-Tasking & the 80/20 Rule

    Posted on July 9th, 2009 Nelson Bodnarchuk No comments

    Every Morning on my way back to the office from the gym I drive South on HWY 400 for approximately 5 min, sometimes 15 if there is a problem on the main roads. The one thing that I notice are the amount of people that use mobile devices, eat bowls of cereal or are smoking while trying to update their play-list on their i-Pod. This post isn’t about the obvious dangers of attempting to operate a motor vehicle at approx. 120km/hr on a busy road while focusing on other less critical tasks, nor is it meant to offend anyone who regularly practices this type of multi-tasking. What this post is about is the myth and dangers that go hand-in-hand with multi-tasking during your working hours. Here’s MSNBC’s take on The Myth of Multi-Tasking.

    I believe that the less interruptions one has, the more focused they are, the more they’ll complete and the quality of what they complete will be higher. As a rule I only have one meeting at the beginning of the day with my team, and let them call others if required. Also just because one has several windows open on their screen doesn’t mean they are focused or getting the job done. As for multi-tasking I can only do one thing at a time, call me old fashioned.

    There’s two parts to this equation though, the first part is focusing on one thing at a time with little to no interruptions and the second is actually doing only value added activities.

    I once had a great manager that said to me: “Probably 80% of what you do during your work day is unnecessary, so if you can focus on that critical 20% you’ll have more time to get more done.” At the time I didn’t fully understand what he meant as all of the things I had on my To Do List were there for a reason. On closer inspection of my list I found that most of what I was doing was non-value added work that cost allot of time for little benefit, or in finance lingo these activities had a low ROI. So from then on I’ve reviewed my To Do List daily, sometime more, to ensure that only the priorities are on it. So what to do with the other less critical items, well you’ve got options:

    • Don’t write them down, and if they’re important enough then they’ll come up again. (37 Signals does this and it seems to be working out for them so far)
    • Create a separate “Parking Lot List”, just in case. (the Six Sigma Methodology uses this tool, I like it for when you’ve got a large group in a room and you don’t want to focus, and spend time, on non-priority issues)
    • Prioritize the list (A, B, C or 1, 2, 3 or !, *, #) and focus on the most critical first.
    • Create an ice berg line to distinguish what you’re going to focus on first (usually you move the most critical items to the top so they’re above the line).

    You can also use a combination of these (this is my personal preference) but the key is to review the list and be objective. Remember focus on that 20% that will generate value for your team, project or whatever the case may be.

    Another key is where possible, or required, get others involved in the process. You’ll gain a different perspective, most likely improve the quality of the list and build morale with out doing something like a company roast. Do this and your To Do list will quickly become a To Done List or even better a To Don’t List.

    If you’re not sure of what I mean by company roast, reference this clip from The Office.