I’ve been thinking about productivity a lot recently, s you may have seen if you’ve been following me on Twitter.

It strikes me though that the most important thing that generalises a lot of the tips is this: Avoid multitasking.

Humans are notoriously bad at multitasking (and not just men, for those women sniggering smugly at the back), so a lot of the tips are about focussing on one thing and ignoring everything else. Things like working through a to do list, setting aside a specific time to deal with emails and setting one main goal, are all about the same thing.

One of the reasons multi-tasking is unproductive is there is a time cost associated with switching tasks. Think about your email. To check it, you open up (or switch to) your email window, you may need to log in, you then have to orient yourself to the last e-mail (which is easier if you have an empty inbox when you end your email tasks), and then get into the mind set of what you do with each email, remember what folders/tags you’re using, and so on. The more you do a task, the shorter the switching time can get, but it is always there, and if you’re multitasking, you’re actually wasting a lot of time during the switching.

Of course, sometimes switching is inevitable, networks go down, sometimes you have to wait for other people, so you need other tasks in the pipeline so you have something to do when you can’t work on your main task, but the longer you can concentrate on one task, the more you’ll get done on that task. And if you set yourself a deadline to complete it, that’ll help your concentration too because it will stop you thinking “Oh, I’ve got a week to finish this, I can check my email now” and start you thinking “I’ve got to get this done by 3 or my plan’s down the drain, so I’ll get this done now and then check my email”.

Well, it’s certainly helped me šŸ™‚

3 thoughts on “Productivity

  1. You say productivity, but the pursuit of productivity is a forlorn activity that mostly results in unhappy people. The measurements are usually bad.

    However I agree that serial activity is far better than parallel for humans. There is a lot of research around this and the reality that multi-tasking is a myth has been well established, if not accepted, for quite some time. This applies just as readily to teams as to individuals. Having a team focus on a single activity will vastly improve throughout, and subsequently “productivity”. This is the true purpose of Scrum. Not the flacid cowboy Scrum that is often done, but the Professional Scrum that embodies not just the mechanics but the values required to achieve true agility.

    Looking at productivity as the driver is the wrong end of the stick. We should instead be looking to identify and remove waste from out lives. As an individual, as a team, and as an organisation, waste is what reduces our optimal productivity.

    If you focus on reducing waste we see past the often petty managerial metrics of productivity and can focus instead on incremental change to remove waste…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said. Reducing waste is definitely what I try to focus on at work, and task switching is one that’s easy to see, but the effects aren’t always obvious.


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