In my last posting I recommended a CCPM book entitled Be Fast or Be Gone written by Andreas Scherer and I hope at least some of you will purchase and begin reading it. One of the key elements of CCPM is the desire to eliminate or at least minimize the harmful effects of multi-tasking. I know we have all been taught that multi-tasking is a good thing, but I want to use an example from Andreas’ book to demonstrate why multi-tasking is not a good thing at all. Just to be clear, multi-tasking is switching from one task to another without finishing the first task and then switching back to the first task or perhaps even another one before finishing the previous one.
The example from Be Fast or Be Gone is one that everyone will be familiar with, attempting to read too many books at the same time. Suppose you have ten books stacked up to read and each of them have 200 pages. When you’re reading, you normally see this as a pleasurable thing and you’re not interested in efficiency. But suppose it was critical for you to read all ten books, maybe to get better at your job. If you read twenty pages and you multi-task, you would have read twenty pages of each book after ten days of reading. You probably won’t have a clue what’s happening in any of them. After twenty days, you’ll be forty pages into each book and you’ll finish them all somewhere between days ninety-one and one hundred. And since you’re probably like most people and don’t have a perfect memory, in all likelihood, you’ll have to go back to remind yourself of what you’ve read. Going back over what you’ve already read is what Scherer refers to as “switching costs.” In the real world, switching costs can easily make up 20 to 30% of the whole task.
On the other hand, if you read in a focused way, that is, starting a book and finishing it, you will have read all of your first book on day ten with much better comprehension. You’ll finish your second book on day twenty, again with much better comprehension and without “switching costs.” At the end of day ninety, you will have read nine out of ten books and be ready to start your tenth one with no redundant reading to do (i.e. no switching costs).
The first takeaway is: Reading in a focused way, you will have read nine out of ten books on day ninety. By multi-tasking (i.e. switching from one book to another back and forth) you won’t have finished any of the books by then. It’s all still work in progress. This means that you can’t fully take advantage of the content of any of the books, nor can you pass any of the books to someone else to read. The more books you read in parallel, the harder it will be to keep track of where you are. If there were a hundred books to read, you would get nothing done. You would have forgotten what was in the first twenty pages of the first book by the time you finished reading the first twenty pages of the hundredth book. You would have to read it all over again.
If you’re in a project management environment, try to keep the lessons in mind from this example. Multi-tasking is simply not a good way to get things done. I hope this helps you in the future.