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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Do You Manage Multiple Projects Effectively?

Multi-tasking is all about handling more than one project in a day.

Yet Dan Bobinski in Management Issues reveals some interesting and worrying information on multi-tasking.

He notes that Robert Croker, Ed.D., chair of the Human Resource Training and Development department at Idaho State University says,

"It's a common misconception is that a brain is like a computer. A computer is designed to multitask. A human brain is not designed to function optimally in a multitask environment."

Dan notes multi-tasking research in a related article on the Mangement Issues blog which show problems with multi-tasking.

Both the Journal of Experimental Psychology and science journal NeuroImage have published research that shows what happens as we multi-task.

It shows that the brain goes through several steps that take up time...

To quote further from Dan's article these include:

  • "a selection process for choosing a new activity,
  • turning off the mental rules needed to do the first task,
  • turning on the mental rules needed to do the second task,
  • orienting itself to the conditions currently surrounding the new task"

The thing that is of most concern is that the research shows that switching between tasks means they can take four times longer to finish. Due to the extra activity the brain has to go through.

From this it instantly becomes clear as to why interruptions are so difficult to handle, because we switch from work mode to conversation to work again. Put in a few of those in the working day and our brain activity is going to go through the roof along with our stress levels.

Bethlehem Steel And Charles Schwab

It also explains why the old Bethlehem Steel story is so vitally important to managing your projects.

Remember Charles Scwab told management consultant Ivy Lee to show him a way to get more things done and he would pay anything "within reason." Famously Ivy Lee simply gave Schwab one unused piece of paper and told him:

  1. Each night take such a piece of paper

  2. Note the most important things you have to do

  3. Number them in order of their importance

  4. When you get to work the next morning start at number one (the one you decided was most important) and continue with it until it's finished

  5. When you've completed the most important task, start on number two and continue that until it's finished

  6. Work on the most important task left on the list for the rest of the day

  7. At the end of the day don't worry if you've not completed the whole list because using any other way would have been even more impossible

  8. Make this your work habit every day

  9. "Send me a check for what you think its worth."

As you're aware Schwab sent Lee $25,000. A fortune in the 1930's. That same technique is still taught by Time Management experts today.

Why Is It So Important?

So the reason this is so important is that it is saying "focus on completing one thing at a time".

Exactly the same is true of managing multiple projects. Yes there can be some interruptions, like phone calls and emails.

The way I work is that I have two periods of time a day that I pro-actively make progress, issue and coaching phone calls so that I'm not (usually) interrupted by those.

I also turned off my regular email update. Sometimes it can be a pain when you're waiting for something but it's a small price to pay for a bit more control over what you're doing.

Focusing on the task in hand and completing it means that your brain is not constantly worrying over an unfinished task that's waiting to be finished.

This is such an important concept that I've cross-posted this from another of my blogs ("Top Achiever's Get It Done")

Technorati Tags: Multi-tasking, Dan Bobinski, Management Issues, Journal of Experimental Psychology, NeuroImage, interruptions, gotta minute, Ivy Lee, Charles Schwab, Bethelem Steel, Time Management, coaching

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