This week we focus on Chapter One of Monotasking by Staffan Nöteberg, which is titled Monotasking In A Nutshell. This chapter lays the foundation for translating the Five Axioms of Monotasking into a simple and straightforward approach. 

Before we dive into defining monotasking, I would like to report on my progress in implementing the ideas generated from the book.  Last week I identified two potential behavior changes based on the five axioms.  They were:

  1. Resume doing daily retrospectives (focused on Axiom 5)
  2. Quiesce Teams and Slack (focused on Axiom 2)

My commitment was to resume daily retrospectives. The outcome was mixed. I completed my retrospective at the end of the day only twice in seven days (4 days I did it at the beginning of the next day and once I missed it due to a dinner party). I did find the process useful to help remind myself to ask what the most important use of my time is now (Lakein’s Question), and I identified a minor tweak to how I set up my days.  Definitely a mixed bag.  What was missing was what Staffan describes as a panorama session in Chapter 1 — more on that in a few paragraphs. I definitely think there is more value in doing the daily retrospectives and the time cost and the frustration of waking up at 2 AM to the realization that I had forgotten to do it — I will continue the experiment. Did any of my readers try doing a daily retrospective or find a way to quiesce Teams or Slack?

One of the most important ideas in Chapter 1 is in the second paragraph of the introductory example of the chapter. “We can choose to be more effective.” While we all face different constraints, in the long run, we can choose to excerpt some control over how we work. Monotasking is one approach to focusing on what is important.

The five monotasking concepts:

  1. The Short List (5 most important tasks – only 5)
  2. Monotasking Sessions (focus time)
  3. The Panorama Cue (an alarm or other demarcation between sessions)
  4. The Panorama Session (this is what was missing in my week one experiment)
  5. Jumbled Priorities (avoidance)

When I read the book the first time I consciously decided that the idea of having a shortlist of only my top five most important tasks was a step that I could modify and instead continue using my Evernote Backlog of 20 to 30 prioritized tasks with a separate expedite lane instead. One of my observations during my retrospectives this week is that I am shopping through the list to find items that are either urgent or can be knocked off the list. The long list allows me to fall into a jumbled priorities syndrome — in other words, working on tasks that are not the most important but rather might be the most urgent or just give me a quick hit of dopamine. The shortlist of priorities is a crucial tool for focusing on what is truly important. 

The panorama cue marks when the monotasking practitioner shift from the focus of monotasking to the big picture view of the panorama session. The panorama session is where you ask “What is the best use of my time right now?” This is where environmental context inputs can rearrange your shortlist (remember, if you add an item cut something else). In my retrospective experiment this week I was not using the end of the workday as a panorama cue and not reassessing what was the most important use of my time then.

Another great takeaway in the chapter is the discussion of the  “I don’t have time” lie. “I don’t have time” is a weasel phrase for saying you do not perceive the task to be as important as something else. One of the areas most teams (agile or not) have is problems with work entry. They say yes to too much work or they are negotiate/told to take too much because they are afraid to address priority and importance and use the not enough time dodge. A discussion of priorities and importance lead to better outcomes.

This week I am torn between working on using a shortlist and implementing panorama cues and sessions so I am going to do all three because I can use all three.  What experiment or experiments are you contemplating?

Have you bought your copy of Monotasking by Staffan Noteberg?  Focus on it!

Previous Entries

Week 1 – Logistics, Game Plan, and Preface 

Week 2 – Introduction