At the end of the year I take time for reflection, introspection, and retooling; an activity that I highly recommend. The question I often ask myself as I reflect is how can I become more effective and efficient. For the sake of clarity, I define effectiveness as the ability to deliver desired results. Effectiveness means that we have to know what we are trying to deliver and that what we are delivering matches the need when it’s delivered. Being “effective” is more complicated than just doing what you were asked to do because that might not be what is needed when you get the end of a piece of work. Being effective requires efficient execution and carefully listening to feedback. Efficiency is a far simpler topic. Efficiency is doing useful work with least amount of energy. For knowledge workers, the most significant input into the efficiency is their time. A few evenings ago as my wife and I talked over a glass of wine, cider and a few tacos (it was taco night) about plans for the new year, she chided me on wanting to write more columns and extend the podcast franchise. As Kevin Kruse (SPaMCAST 398) says there are only 1,440 minutes in a day and without a time machine it is nearly impossible to generate more. Efficient and effective use of our minutes is more than an academic question, it is a matter directly tied to meeting our goals and feeling fulfilled. Over the years I have found nine improvement areas that commonly can be capitalized on at a personal level. I will openly admit that each item on our list are areas that I strive to be better at almost on a daily basis.
- Multi-projecting versus Multitasking
- Filtering Work
- Time Boxing
- Blocking Electronic Distractions
- Thinly Slice Work (One Step At a Time)
- Random Time Accounting Tips
While these items are all useful at a personal level, as we explore each item in more detail I believe you will find that they can be used at a team or group level as well.
The first improvement areas in detail:
- Multi-projecting versus Multitasking. Over the years I have been convinced of the evils of even thinking that I can multitask. Multitasking reduces efficiency due to the extra effort of trying to do two things at once and reduces effectiveness due to task confusion and contention. Multi-projecting is a more difficult issue. Multi-projecting occurs when you are asked to work on two or more projects during the same timeframe. I often multi-project. For example, I work on a new podcast every week, a new set of blog entries and typically one client-facing project all during the same timeframe. I compartmentalize each project and work on them individually. Done correctly there is no overlaps or contention for resources. Multi-projecting does lose some efficiency due to starting and stopping, but helps reduce burnout due to over focus and provides a mechanism to fill odd bits of time such as when I am sitting in a restaurant alone when I am on the road.
Tools I use:
- Trello – I use Kanban to track work in order to minimize startup time.
- Evernote – I typically email notes (which I dictate – we will discuss during automation) to Evernote about other projects or ideas that pop to mind when I not working on them. I also capture non-project tasks in a to-do list in Evernote.
(Does anyone know how I can do some level of integration between Trello and Evernote?)
I do not think I am making an over fine distinction between multitasking and multi-projecting. Multi-projecting requires adopting a time box mentality and then keeping different projects in those time boxes. I recognize that there is some tradeoff between efficiency (switching costs) and effectiveness (staying fresh and making visible continuous progress). Finding a workable pattern requires constant reappraisal based on feedback.
Entries in the Annual Tune-Up Theme for 2016!