Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Why Multitasking Sucks

It is better to be effective than efficient, and many times, the most effective manner of accomplishing some task just is the most efficient manner. Consider this little tidbit:
I won't bore you with all the references to how multi-tasking produces waste. But do understand, the company policy to have very high utilization of staff creates the requirement for multi-tasking. Full utilization is not sustainable. Until you can lower utilization, thereby creating slack, you won't be learning and innovating. You can't be lean.

Clarke Ching uses a simple exercise to show just how evil multi-tasking is. Do the exercise for yourself and then have your boss do it. It goes like this:

Make three columns on a page for the three projects X, Y and Z. For the first project (column) you'll write the numbers 1 - 10; for the second project (column) write the letters A - J; and for the last project (column) the Roman numerals I - X. You'll perform these three projects twice. Have someone time you.

Project X Project Y Project Z
1 A I
2 B II
. . .
. . .
. . .
10 J X
(Sorry about the formatting).

The first time performing the projects do it in multi-tasking mode by taking the first step of each project and recording the first character for all three sequences, then the second character for all three, then the third, and through to the tenth characters — row by row — until all three projects are completed. This represents the multitasking individual's work process.

On the second pass complete one project before going on to the next by recording one full sequence in a column, all the numbers, then all the letters, finally all the Roman numerals — column by column.

Now, compare your times. Also, note if you made any errors along the way.
Learn anything about the potential mal-effects of multi-tasking?

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