Productivity and Massively Multi-Tasking

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Want to be highly productive? Aside from any issues that you’ll have to learn to deal with, high productivity comes from the ability to multi-task massively. This a key skill, as there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, etc., and I already spend quite a bit of time learning new topics as part of my contract writing work.

As a former computer programmer/ analyst, my entire mode of thinking is geared towards multi-tasking. As a former search engine webmaster and regular webmaster, there have been times where I’ve had to program on up to five computers simultaneously while also monitoring a half dozen websites or more and interacting with several people. It was part of the job.

As I’ve mentioned previously, multi-tasking isn’t about doing multiple tasks at the same time. It’s about managing multiple tasks simultaneously. There’s a difference. If you’re using technology, it’s even easier to to multi-task, as you can start something and let the technology take over as you do something else. Of course, you’ll have to come back to first item at some point, then repeat the cycle.

Now, you can apply multi-tasking principles in regular life as well. The only way to explain this is to give you a concrete example…

My whole mode of thinking for the past five years has been frugality out of necessity. I became a 100% bonafide starving artist/ freelance writer in Jan 2002, when my last computer contract was cut short in Dec 2001. The company had just built a new $40M facility north of Toronto, and the tech bubble had burst. Employees and contractors were cut. I was one of them.

I won’t get into a long discussion of what happened, but the result is that I’m now frugal about both money and time. It’s a bit weird being looked at with disdain by some people who think I’m cheap, especially when I used to be someone who threw money around like it was rice at a wedding.

No matter. I find that multi-tasking seems to be directly related to frugality. It’s like achieving an economy of time and effort, but not to be confused with laziness. Multi-tasking success initially requires organization and thought, but will later become habit. On to an example…

I was just thinking to myself that when I move to Toronto later this year, I plan to start going to repertory cinema and non-mainstream theatre again, as well as take up photography, volunteer at the opera and a soul kitchen, etc. But I currently do contract work all week long, day and night. I haven’t learned economy of effort. How can I possibly find the time? Not to mention, to even do laundry, I’ll probably have to either hop on a streetcar or walk to the nearest laundromat.

The frugal person in me suddenly put two concepts together:

  • constrain yourself
  • take photos in the street

The Headrush weblog says that if you want to create something amazing right now, you need to constrain yourself. I know from my nature as a perfectionist that I often spend more time than necessary on a project. It’s why my contract work takes about twice as long as it probably should.

So I sat down, sharpened my project management skills, and figured out how I could juggle my daily and weekly projects. Surprise, surprise, it worked. Well, sort of. Instead of spending 85+ hours per week, I calculated that I could possibly do the same amount work in only 55, give or take. That’s because, if divide each large task into smaller tasks and alternate them with the daily work, I won’t spend so much time on them. (That is, I won’t waste those hours staring at something when I could work on something else and come back to a problem.)

For example, say I have 3 recurring weekly tasks that take 15-20 hours each right now, due to doing each in a mammoth work session that isn’t always productive. Splitting each into a group of small tasks of 1-3 hours lets me cut out unproductive time. Attention span only goes so far, and interleaving different tasks will force me to stay on schedule.

I use Google Calendar, which lets me schedule my tasks, It uses an annoying popup reminder set a few minutes before a scheduled new task. This is effective if I don’t ignore it. I find that list tools like Neptune are helpful but don’t keep me to a schedule as much as annoying popup reminders.

As a result of this form of multi-tasking (doing several projects at once), I’d not only be able to complete all of my contracts and earn more money each month, but I’d have time left to do my own writing and projects. I could even take up photography again, etc., when I move. (Now, if still want to be frugal, I could always do some street photography while my laundry is being done, and then leverage that effort by doing a bit of blogging about photography.)

I’ve only been applying this new work methodology as of last night, but it appears that it’s effective, and I’m already getting more work done. Discipline in sticking to this multitasking method is the part I still have to conquer.

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