Editor's note: This is part of a series named TRIVIALITIES by Andrés Calviño, Head of Organizational Capabilities at Techie Talent.
Please stop! There is no multitasking when referring to tasks performed by human beings. Human beings just cannot perform conscious cognitive tasks in parallel. Simply not... end of discussion.
Instead, the best we can aim for is rapid context switching, where "context" refers to the concrete task you are working on, its dependencies, and the environment and resources you require to do the work. When switching context, "rapid" could be milliseconds but also a couple of hours. Yes, hours.
Usually, this is a recurrent topic in conversations with clients where the elixirs of our Software Engineering world (like "Agile" and so forth) have poisoned the way to do business and many times, you find yourself fighting the battle of productivity, having your client expecting you to multitask work to do it faster... just like machines can do. I'm sorry, humans cannot. Simply not... end of discussion.
A simple rule to follow:
Productive work = (Focus * Concentration) / Interruptions
- Focus: consciously put your attention and energy on the single concrete thing you have to do.
- Concentration: consciously find yourself now and here. Nothing else matters out there.
- Interruptions: consciously avoid distractions and do selective instant-prioritization whenever interrupted to consciously decide to switch context.
Now, the real problem to discuss is not much about maximizing focus and concentration while preventing interruptions, but facing the fact that context switching does not scale when it happens fast and often. It burns you out. Simply does not scale... end of discussion.
Instead of dreaming of multi-tasking (to be effectively productive), you'd better practice two concrete disciplines:
- Work Prioritization: out of the so many things you have to do, commit to just three, so you will do A, B, and C. If something else becomes more important, re-evaluate which three things to do.
- Capacity Planning: intentionally dedicate X% of your time to A, Y% to B, and Z% to C. If something else requires time, re-evaluate your %.