I stared at the list of requests the team was working on. Seven people, ninety-three active requests. Over ten active requests for each person. The team was working hard, but it felt like we weren’t making progress. Requests were not getting completed, and it felt like we were the bottleneck.

The IT department’s to-do list is always longer than its capacity to complete those tasks. This is intentional. A properly managed company will not have excess capacity in its service groups like Finance, HR, or IT. I have yet to discover a company that does not have an IT backlog.

Getting that work done is a challenge. There is always pressure to do more. Those with requests in the backlog will keep pushing to get their requests completed. We complicate this by having too many projects or tasks active at the same time. We are always multitasking, trying to keep all the juggling balls up in the air.

All too often, we fail.

The answer is to have fewer tasks active at a time and make sure that they get completed before starting something new. Let’s start with the real problem: multi-tasking.

When we transition from one mental task to another, the transition is not instantaneous. No two problems are exactly alike, and our brain takes time to make the switch. This transition time is not productive and is a waste of time. We waste time putting one task away and getting the new task out and trying to remember where we left off.

The following diagram shows what is happening. In the first example, we only transition after we have completed a task. Three tasks, two transitions.

In the second example, we start all three tasks and try to spend a bit of time on each and we move them together towards completion. As you can see, we waste more time in transitions. All three tasks take longer to complete than if we had completed them one at a time.

Myth of Multitasking.
Copyright 2021 John A. Bredesen, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook

In a future article I will discuss of the causes of multitasking and what we can do about them. Until then, keep an eye out for transition time you are wasting.

One Comment on “Focus & Finish: The Myth of Multitasking

  1. Pingback: The IT Director: Focus & Finish: The Challenges and Solutions

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