Sunday, December 17, 2017

Eight Agile Wastes of Hanukah: #6 Task-switching

Foods fried in oil are compulsory Hanukah fare.

Next up we have sufganiyot (in Hebrew), also known as ponchkes (in Yiddish), a kind of deep-fried jelly-centred donut.

Nowadays you can get all kinds of exotic fillings — chocolate, custard, and so forth — but I stand by tradition (or habit) and go for the jam ones!

Agile Waste #6: Task-switching

Excessive task-switching is a natural extension of having too much Work in Progress (Agile Waste #5). 

If you have lots of things on the go, you will need to switch between them to keep them all moving. Even if some are blocked, there's a cost to periodically checking whether the blocks are still in place.

Every time you switch between tasks there's a switching cost associated with recovering context and focus. Worse, your mind is paying a holding cost for every additional task that's on the back-burner while you work on one at a time. For knowledge work this cost per item is considerable.

Some people wear there purported ability to multi-task as a badge of honour, but this is an illusion. I suspect that they are mistaking the feeling of busyness for efficiency. That's a big mistake.

What to do instead

First of all, prove to yourself that multi-tasking is inefficient and stressful. There are plenty of simple experiments you can do by time-trialling yourself at the same task done with and without task-switching. Here's a good one.

Next, reflect on the insight that (if you are multi-tasking) you are needlessly wasting a huge amount of time and energy.

Finally, start uni-tasking: organise your self to do one thing at a time, or at least fewer things than you did before. Naturally, all the advice on limiting Work in Progress applies here (Agile Waste #5).

You will most likely also notice that by paying full attention to one thing at a time the quality of your work also improves, reducing defect creation (Agile Waste #3) and increasing your work satisfaction.

* * *

If you manage or work in a team reflect on how much more effective (and calm) your team can become if you all stop trying to keep lots of balls in the air, and instead focus on getting a few small pieces of work flowing through the system at high speed.

"The sooner you start the sooner you finish" and "If you want something done, ask a busy person" are dangerously misguided pieces of advice.

Much better: "Limit your WIP" and "Stop starting; start finishing".

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