Agilists Call it ETM instead of Hypertasking

By Brian Lucas

This one is for Ariana with the raven tresses of Persephone and the mind of Athena.

“Make use of time, let not advantage slip.” -William Shakespeare

Time management is a problem considerably older than Shakespeare.  All of us feel the pressure to do more in a day.  This often consumes our precious time allotment of leisure until it is nothing more than a memory.  Regrettably, every time you turn around someone is giving you some impossible advice on how to be more productive.  Here instead, are 6 highly practical tips to help you find more time during the day and regain your relaxation time.

Hypertasking is superseding multitasking as the latest buzz word. So, let us explore the definition of hypertasking.  Hypertasking is not supertasking[1], Zeno’s Paradox[2] or any of the other purely scientific terms.   We are talking about multitasking[3] on steroids[4].  The urban dictionary describes hypertasking as “The simultaneous execution of an exceedingly large number of tasks. An otherwise unmanageable number of tasks that can be accomplished with an extreme level of concentration. aka taking multi-tasking to the Nth degree.”

“Hold on a minute, Brian!” someone is shouting, “one of the tenets of agile is working on a single project at a time with the concentrated focus gaining efficiency. You’re violating agile rule again! And you call yourself a Master agilist!”  I agree, concentrating on a single subject at a time, like a project, does enable you to improve quality and be more efficient on that project.  However, if we single threaded all our tasks, we would be subject to absolutely silent dinners, not be able to take notes while listening to a lecture, or enjoy a fine pipe while out strolling on a brisk fall day.  So you see we naturally multitask when it is to our advantage.

Now that you know we are all natural multitaskers, let me shock you by saying I am not a fan of multitasking.  I don’t object to texting while doing something else, or scanning email while on the phone.  However, there is no way you can be in a project meeting and be working on something else and do either task justice.  The unfortunate fact is most people’s brains have limited multitasking ability.  Experiments conducted over the last 25 years studying multitasking in humans and our limitations, have shown multitasking is not as efficient as concentrated efforts.  Most people display a severe degradation[5] in both quality and efficiency even when simple tasks are performed simultaneously.   Some go further.  Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell describes multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.”[6]

Ok, OK stop screaming that I am confusing you!  That was all backstory for why I am calling it efficient task management (ETM) which I pronounce eatum.  ETM is not about doing things at the same time, although it doesn’t forbid it.  Instead, ETM is about creating an environment that maximizes your efficient execution of tasks.  So here are my practical ETM tips:

  1. Set up your work. Studies show that as much as 10 to 20% of your time is wasted opening and closing windows and applications, etc. and finding things you need to complete your tasks.  It amounts to almost a day a week.  If you are going to be working on multiple things throughout the day, open them all at once in the beginning of your work.  If appropriate arrange them on separate monitors.  If you surf the internet for information and regularly return to several sites, bookmark them.  It is easy to pop into another task for a few moments if everything is arranged and ready to go.  Whether you need to record time or check some business news or update a project plan, etc. while you are waiting for an instant message or an email response or a phone call to begin.  Think of your electronic environment as a carpenter thinks of his tool belt and box.  If you ever saw a master carpenter’s tools you noticed they were all well organized, easily at hand and top-notch. That leads us to tip #2.
  2. Never wait on your machines. In your computing and electronic world don’t go economy.  If you use a low end laptop, tablet or smartphone you are always waiting for it to finish something.  That is your precious time it is burning.  It adds up to 10% or 48 minutes a day.  So spend a little and save a lot.  The same is true for data plans.  If you bought a low-end data plan or don’t have one, you are always cruising around for a Wi-Fi hotspot burning both time and gas.  You will be surprised just how much time you’ll save internet surfing, emailing, etc. in a week.
  3. Chip and chip away.  Some people believe it is terribly rude to text or email while doing something else.  If you get a lot of texts and emails in a day like I do, you could spend 2 hours at the end of a day answering them all.  Instead, chip away at them on your smartphone and tablet throughout the day.  You waste considerable time while going to get coffee or waiting for a meeting to start or even listening to a non-intense phone call or waiting to pick your children up from school or waiting for your date to get dressed[7], [8]. These are ideal microtime[9] moments to sneak in these tasks.
  4. Change your venue.  It is astonishing how much you can get out of a meeting or a conversation if you take it out of the office to a coffee shop, juice bar, restaurant or even a walk around the building.  If you can reclaim even a half hour of time during lunch, it amounts to 2½ extra hours each week. Many of the most sought after businesses like Google and LinkedIn operate this way.  It is why they install coffee shops, juice bars, five star restaurants, etc. on their campuses.  Unfortunately, some businesses have strict at your desk rules for regulation hours.  They are foolishly only hurting themselves with this closed minded and backwards mentality in the era of constant communications and doing nothing to ensure employee loyalty and productivity.
  5. Plan your critical path.[10]  On your way to work, can you stop at the drug store and pick up those prescriptions?  While at work can you wait until you have to get up to go to a meeting[11] to grab another coffee or water?  How about scheduling back to back meeting in the same conference room.  Sometimes it’s as simple as having your laptop with you between meeting and working from the conference room instead of trundling back to your office. How about stopping on the way home to pick up the dry cleaning?  These are all simple examples and yet I challenge you that if you sat down and mapped out a routine for yourself you could easily recover 10% of your time each week.  In a 40 hour week that 4 hours.
  6. Integrate your systems.  For goodness sakes integrate your business and personal calendars on your smartphone and run some kind of app that allows you to open your office documents there as well.  BYOD[12] is generally a smart option for organizations unless there is an overriding regulatory security concern that overrides this convenience and economics. This makes integration considerably easier.  If you run into a situation where you are entering the same information twice in two different applications at work, the management is being totally irresponsible and incredibly cavalier with you and your time.  Fortunately, companies that show this level of unenlightened management won’t be around forever.  Their time is numbered.

If you kept up with the math, it ends up being about 28½ hours a week.  Of course, the time savings, like the math, is not quite that linear.  On the other hand, every person that I have sat down with and worked to help them map out their days and find efficiencies has saved at least 10% of their time each week.  Some save more time each week as they gain the faculty of this type of thinking.   There isn’t anything magical here, except the pure magic that when we stop and think about what we are doing we can generally improve our activities with just a little extra planning.  Planning sounds antithetical to an agilist.  But, as I told a class I recently taught on Practical Agile Thinking at a recent PMI[13] chapter meeting, there are no rules in being agile.  Plan when you need to and have your initiatives drive your plan, not the plan rigidly drive the initiative.

So plan your activities for efficiencies and ETM up!  And remember until next time, keep agile!

 


[1] See Thomson, James F. (October 1954). “Tasks and Super-Tasks”.

[2] I fell in love with Zeno’s reasoning when I was 8.  His expressions of paradoxes led me to the Socratic conclusion that I really could not be certain of anything, but reasoning my way through the conundrum of life’s mysteries would be an incredible amount of fun!

[3] Multitasking in the human sense not to be confused with computer multitasking from which the term is derived. Multitasking is when an individual is handling more than one task virtually at the same time. For example, you can answer the phone and listen while scanning email.

[4] Sorry for the cliché.

[5] See Gladstones, Regan & Lee 1989 and Pashler 1994 on experimental psychology.

[6] Sorry doctor Hallowell, but many a time I have gone for a walk in the park while smoking a cigar, feeding the birds[6], and the gang of squirrels I have nicknamed the peanuts gang, and my favorite ground hog called Sally Glossyfur, and Standly the blue heron, etc. (I have a lot of friends at the park and only 50% are human) and nodding to the passersby.  I realize that is a factious retort, but I wanted to point out with humor that some of the tests put subjects in unfamiliar environments, under the pressure of a test and at times had them execute tasks they don’t often perform.  I am not discrediting all or even any of the tests, just putting them into perspective.

[7] Note that this is not all about business related tasks.

[8] It does wonders for your calm by occupying your mind and strangely I predict that you will learn, as I have, that when you are always still texting when your date pops in the car she will keep you waiting less and less. J

[9] Opps, another buzz word snuck in.  Microtime in this instance means time intervals generally less than 5 minutes.

[10] See the seminar work on the CPM method Kelley, James. Critical Path Planning and Scheduling: Mathematical Basis. Operations Research, Vol. 9, No. 3, May–June, 1961

[11] Or just exercising management by walking around (MBWA) or even a trip to the rest facilities.

[12] Bring Your Own Device see Wiech, Dean. “The Benefits And Risks Of BYOD”. Manufacturing Business Technology.

[13] Project Management Institute

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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8 Responses to Agilists Call it ETM instead of Hypertasking

  1. Jack says:

    Hi Brian! Great to see you posting again! These are the same tips you gave me about working smarter instead of harder. They definitely worked. So tell me who is Ariana?

    • Brian Lucas says:

      Thank you Jack It is always a pleasure to hear from a SUCCESSFUL newly converted agilist who has become an old hat and a mentor of others. There is nothing more rewarding than sharing knowledge with someone, seeing them apply it and watching them share it with others. It is a great testimony to you at how far you have come since we met in this blog back in 2011. I am proud to call you a friend! -Brian

  2. Sally says:

    Brian you are the best of friends and I am glad you shared this will all of your readers. I agree with Jack this is a generic version of the same advice you provided me the first time we met. I honestly knew these time saving concepts before, but I did not apply them as consistently, creatively or rigorously until I met you. It was your creative insight and positive face to face encouragement that made the real difference. I honestly don’t know I would have made as much improvement in my time management without your individual coaching. Every time we meet, talk over the phone or just email and text, you somehow make my life a little better. I am eternally grateful! -Sally

    • Brian Lucas says:

      Sally what can I say, but to sincerely return the compliment and say that I treasure our friendship as much as you do and have learned a great deal about organizational realignment from you as well. Til gcasfar le chéile sinn arís – Brian

  3. Jack says:

    Ditto on Sally’s comment Brian!

  4. Ginny Dugan says:

    I’ve been enjoying your posts for some time, but this one made me laugh. Every women I know who is married and/or has kids, does this constantly!

    Ginny Dugan
    Business Systems Analyst
    Fire Mountain Gems and Beads
    1 Fire Mountain Way
    Grants Pass, OR 97526
    (541) 474-8617
    duganv@firemtn.com

    • Brian Lucas says:

      Dear Ginny – Thanks for the comment and being a reader. I am glad this gave you a chuckle. Unfortunately, too many people struggle with this issue. The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention holds true here. I am in complete awe at the way some parents (single mothers in particular I know) are able to do excellent full time work at a business, do a terrific job raising young children and wonderfully maintain a home. Admittedly, this is not a universal phenomenon and not all parenting stories are successful. Yet it is, at least in my experience more prevalent than people often think who are barraged with all the negatives in our newstainment driven society. We celebrate Phidippides immortal run from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of the Athenians against insurmountable odds… and rightly we should. To me though, this memorable run pales in comparison to the daily victory these single parents achieve each and every day. -Brian

  5. Marilyn Davies says:

    Brian we women do this all the time! When I come home from work, I hold my little Mary, while getting the meal ready and taking on the phone. We have been doing this for years. Its called the life of a single mom.

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