Working in Serial

There is an ongoing debate about multitasking. People that do it claim it makes them much more efficient, although research shows it doesn't. People then believe they are exceptions to the research, and that most people just don't multitask as well as they do. Over time I have reluctantly come to favor the anti-multitasking argument. Not that it isn't possible, just that it takes away focus from any really important tasks at hand. If I'm going to multitask, it will be something like watching tv while folding laundry. (in case Mrs. Businesspundit reads this – no, I don't remember the last time I folded laundry, but I problemably watched tv while I did it).

Anyway, I found this interesting post about working serially, and of course the engineering analogy resonated strongly. Here is the crux of the post.

Since working in parallel is learned behavior brought on by peer pressure, how do we break that habit? Becoming productive is the best way to do it. What will be the hardest habit to break is working in parallel sometimes and working in series in others. In electronics, surprisingly enough, this is called a series / parallel circuit. It has definite current drops over portions of the circuit while constant current across others. More than likely, in some way, this is how we all behave. We try to check our email while in meetings. We try to type while on the phone with another. However, when faced with a large task, we devote all of our time to finishing it, so that we can go back to checking our email and catching that 2 o'clock by the skin of our teeth.

I am going to tell you to stop doing that. Treat everything as you do that big project. Devout time to checking your email and answering it, then stop checking until the next devoted time. If you have a 2 o'clock meeting, devote your energy to making that a successful meeting. Do your job to the best of your abilities for each task that you have. What you will find you are working less, as you are not having to go back and redo the things that you did last week. You will also find that you are setting more accurate priorities based on your capacity, rather than based on your workload.

This is one reason I think entrepreneurs can be very effective when their companies grow into stable organizations, or when they have to return to the workforce for some reason. Because of the massive amount of work there is to do in an entrepreneurial organization, you learn to prioritize, and you learn to let go of some things. It's healthy. And it's effective. For those of you interested in working serially, I would suggest the Getting Things Done model.

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Hat tip to Jotzel for the post.