Managing Multi-Tasking

After my presentation last night at the Detroit PMI chapter, an attendee asked me, “Is context switching really as bad as you say it is?” Yes, it is. I believe Weinberg's estimate of losing 10-20% of possible work-time every time you attempt to take on one more project. And, if you read Hal's entry today, “Multi-tasking resources in contention is a principle source of throwing a project out of sequence.”

So if you're faced with too many distinct projects, what can you do? I started to answer this in Dealing with Multitasking. But there's more you can do:

  1. Verify you understand the relative importance of all the projects you're working on.
  2. Verify all your work should be done.
  3. Estimate how long each set of tasks will take. Bunch as many tasks together as possible.
  4. If you can, spend a week on each project, so you can make progress. If you can't spend a week, allocate days to projects. If you can't allocate days, allocate mornings or afternoons. If you can't do that, find another job, because this company won't be around long enough to pay you.
  5. Track your task estimates. If something starts taking longer, take a few minutes to determine why. Do you need help? Are you capable of performing the work? Could you work faster if you work with someone else?
  6. If many of you are stretched over too many projects, consider pairing. Pair-work with someone on two projects, working on each one at the same time. If two of you work together on one project at the same time, you can make more progress than each of you working separately.
  7. If you're a manager, learn about project portfolio management, especially about when to fund, initiate, and staff projects. If you're a technical person, discuss project portfolio management with your manager. Your manager may not realize what he/she is asking you to do.

Whatever you do, make sure you don't let the context-switching and multi-tasking continue. The more spread you are, the less effective you are.

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