Sooner or later each of us faces a situation when we not only have to work but also need to organize our workflow properly. Be it for good or for bad, but man is not a computer. Unlike computers, we are not capable of multithreading or multitasking. When we must deal with multiple tasks, we start with the first one, and then get down to the second, the third etc. A lot of people consider themselves great multitaskers, like Julius Caesar, who is said to have been able to read, write, listen to reports and keep on talking to his secretary at the same time. But recent studies have shown that human brain can fully concentrate on one task only. If a person must handle another task at the same time, the probability of errors and loss of quality increases.
Unfortunately, the world is not a perfect place, so many of us risk being buried under the avalanche of tasks which have been accumulated gradually. It all starts with just a few tasks. You take up one, then start working on the second, the third and the fourth… Then you get involved in another project, and the deadlines are getting dangerously close. You try to cope with the enormous workload and get nervous. Meanwhile, you get exhausted, and the first signs of burnout start showing.
What to do in this case? How to cope with multitasking and remain adequate?
Where Do the Pitfalls Lie?
Multiple projects: different teams, clients and tasks.
You’ve got to work with many people. It may happen even when you work on one large-scale project, where tasks are distributed among teams. Teams can be international, so it is important to keep in mind the working hours of your teammates. If your company handles the entire project, you are lucky. But if you are responsible only for a certain module, unexpected difficulties may arise due to the critical differences in the working hours of other teams.
Multiple areas of expertise.
The projects you work on may include web, mobile (native/cross-platform) or desktop applications. The main thing is not to get confused about what, where and how you should do. The more projects you have running, the more likely you will face something unfamiliar to you, which may involve some features of certain technologies or differences between them.
Project documentation might be an issue, too. It can be present or missing; besides, it can be presented in different forms. For example, you join a project and find out the existing documentation is out-of-date and needs updating. Another project has no documentation at all, and you are made responsible for writing it. When you send reports on your work, in some projects managers might want Excel spreadsheets, while in others Microsoft Word documents are required. It is not always possible to make it more uniform or concise (let us not touch the topic of documentation for documentation’s sake, ok?).
Sprint / Release Dates Can Be Different in Different Projects.
Deadlines and important milestones should be clarified at once. You should plan everything you can. You should estimate all possible risks. It’s ok when you start working on multiple projects, but will you be able to keep that pace all the time?
Everyone Wants You Online
People always need something from you – advice, clarification, an estimate for a task or feature, a report on what you have done, help in making a decision or a Skype call, and many other things. Besides, you have your duties related to the project, which you should handle during the day.
A working day does not start with a cup of coffee. Instead, it starts with reading your emails and messages. It’s important not only to keep all the information in mind but to keep up with all the changes, which will surely occur.
What to Do?
It’s time for sharing a few life hacks.
- Start your work right.
When joining a project, try to get as much information as you can. The key is to find out everything, starting from the name of the project and finishing with the tiniest detail.
Ask questions. Never stop asking until you get a clear response. It will look odd if you will start inquiring about the details of the project after several weeks of work.
- Manage your time and inform the teams about your working hours.
No one will manage your time but you. If you are working on a project on a part-time basis your team must be aware of it. Plan your time for all your projects, e.g. project X till 1 pm, projects Y and Z after 1 pm. Not more than 3 hours should be spent on project X, not more than 5 hours on projects Y and Z. Make up a plan and keep up to your schedule. If you get absorbed in work and forget about the time, it makes sense to set an alarm clock or notifications – choose the option that works for you. We also recommend reading a few books on time management.
- Negotiate the key points with your team members.
Proper organization of the workflow makes life easier for everyone. You can discuss deployment time, merge time etc.
- Plan every project (for today, tomorrow and the next week).
Don’t start working unless you have a plan. Making up a plan at the beginning and following it afterwards will make your work more effective. The plan may include some key points or a detailed schedule for a week, month or sprint. Just choose what suits you best. You can use some special planning tool. The simplest way is to create a chart with the following columns: a project, estimated time and tasks, time spent, result, issues etc. If you get back to the chart after some time, you will be able to see some tendencies, e.g. what takes most of your time, which tasks are easy to manage and which are challenging.
- Define priorities for your projects and tasks in terms of deadlines and importance.
All your work is important, but there’s always something more critical and something of low priority. Defining the priority can be difficult, but it is necessary. When you analyze the situation, always set priorities for your tasks.
Identify major and minor tasks and always start with what is major.
- Don’t get side-tracked to other projects and try not to switch from one to another.
According to the mentioned above, you have planned and organized your workflow on a project/projects, but this is only a beginning. Be ready for being distracted for some reason or no reason at all. For example, someone asks you a question that needs a prompt reply, your PM asks you to deploy the latest build, you need to check the resolves – and you are busy with another project and having a call with a foreign client. Switching to another task or project always takes the time to concentrate and get down to work. You divide your working time between projects and, besides, you spend time on switching between them. Always try to minimize it.
- Don’t be a YES-person.
Learn how to say no.
Never agree to do every task you are asked to do. When you see that there is a better way of doing something, suggest it at once. If you are busy and will be busy for some time, say no to your colleagues if they ask you to do something else. It would be good to give your reasons and say when you will be available again.
The bigger a project is, the higher the risk of poor communication seems. With a lot of people involved in the project, it is impossible for everyone to keep up with everything. People can even have a different understanding of the project goals. Don’t expect everyone to be aware of your situation and of everything you do. As a rule, every project has its chat. Always write to the chat when you start and finish your work, inform the team about what you have done. A couple of words can help everybody to keep up and solve many problems at once.
- Think positive.
That’s the easiest tip to write and the most difficult to follow. It is always pleasant to deal with positive people. It makes work faster and more effective.
- Be result-oriented.
Try to finish at least one task a day/week/sprint.
When you and other people see the result of your work, you don’t ask yourself a question “What have I been doing all this time?”. This tip alongside with the previous one is also important for feeling satisfied with your work.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Probably, it wasn’t something new for you, but you recognized yourself while reading. For some of you, these recommendations may be a helping hand in the sea of multitasking.
Andersen appreciates professionals who can properly distribute their time and effort between different tasks. We always encourage people who are eager to learn it.