Productivity Hack #1 - Multi-Tasking, Single-Tasking & Planned-Tasking

Breaking it Down

Multi-Tasking: You’ll often hear of people who are excellent at multi-tasking. The ability to divide your attention on multiple items at the same time and doing each one successfully is a skillset which not everyone has. Those who do swear it helps with productivity and always believe in taking on numerous things at one go.

Single-Tasking: Then, there are those can just do one task at a time. These people need to channel all their energy and focus on one problem before moving on to the next. They’d prefer being isolated or not being disturbed during this time. However, if you throw an odd ball at them while they are in the zone, they’d just be left frustrated and it takes a while for them to get back to what they were doing.

Is EIther Type Content?

Both breed productivity in their own way.

However,

A single-tasker (a lot of them) usually looks up to people who have the ability to multi-task. Not being able to do multiple things often frustrates her because she’s sees a colleague at work who’s able to do a lot more in a given period of time.

A multi-tasker just prides herself on seemingly have the ability to get through a lot of items in a short period of time - she often tries to take on more and more work on her plate. What often ends up happening is that she misses an item or two in the process and at times hopes she had not bitten more than she could chew.

Our Learnings

At Bijli, we have both kinds of people. Some with the ability to focus on and participate in multiple discussions at once, and some who would put on headphones and go chop, chop, chop. In the journey of building a product (and many before this one), both people at some point would burn out.

The multi-tasker (usually the business person, product manager or platform architect) would be exhausted by the end of the day because his / her brain was stretched in solving multiple problems in a short period of time or getting involved in multiple conversations.

The single-tasker (usually the platform developer) would look at a long list of tasks and feel the pressure of a 100 things to do from the onset of doing the first task. At some point, she would question whether she’s capable of doing it all or whether she should escalate it to someone within the team and ask for help.

As a startup or small business, this often seems to be a common story for a lot of us and we all share similar experiences within our own organisations.

To solve for this - The question that we asked ourselves is how can we bring the processes-oriented mindset of an enterprise within the nimble startup-culture? That question led us to something we coined as ‘Planned-Tasking.’

Planned-Tasking

Planned-Tasking - a learning from a development process called ‘Sprint Planning’ - allows every member within the company to know what she did, what she is doing & what she will be doing. Whether at an individual level, at a team level or at an organisation level, every stakeholder is in the know of what needs to be done in order to achieve a set goal. A planned-tasker will usually spend the first few mornings of her day and understand what needs to be achieved today and what can be pushed to later. With a list of items due today, she gets on top of her to-do list before it overwhelms her and she removes the distractions usually that comes with viewing a long list.

As the day progresses, she goes through the list one at a time and gets stuff completed. Because she & her colleagues have visibility in what’s being worked on by each person, each one avoids distracting the other (unless necessary). Since she’s already set a goal for herself at the start of the day, she knows when she’s going to end up reaching home and she’ll only add to that list if she can handle it within a the time-frame of a day. She’s come in hoping she’d leave work at 7pm and she makes sure she only does the number of items that are important for today and that can be done by then.

Her manager or colleagues however absolutely respect her style of working because she’s come with an agenda and she always leaves work when that agenda is completed.

Planned-Tasking mixes the best of single-tasking and multi-tasking by using planning as an activity to allow you to ensure you get through the day achieving the same amount as your multi-tasking colleague but with the precision of your single-tasking colleague. Plus - you manage everyone’s expectations along the way because you’ve kept everyone informed!

As you progress through your own company, you will greatly benefit by implementing planned-tasking for yourself and your team.

Most importantly, planned-tasking protects and helps you maximise the utilisation of the most important and finite resource, your TIME.

Popular Examples

As a third-party observer, we’ve often seen a lot of leaders or companies who’ve managed to build a lot of successful businesses or products and have gone all guns blazing making each their own billion dollar entity.

Elon Musk, for example, manages SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company among others. You may always wonder how he does so. However, he’s just planned his week to ensure he gives time to each venture every week but on a daily basis he focuses only on the venture he’s giving his time too.

Apple, which has all the money in the bank, could have released multiple versions of the phones or gotten involved in multiple products. However, except for the obvious marketing benefits of spreading out product release cycles, the staggered but planned product release cycles allows teams to focus on certain products during certain months thus allowing for productivity.

Take Narendra Modi, the President of India for instance, or any president or CEO for that matter of a major country or enterprise. They have carefully crafted schedules and agendas that allow for them to get through numerous and varied topics on one day while doing so in the most efficient manner.

Things To Try

So the question is - is planned tasking only for top managers? We’d argue its a mindset that needs to be inculcated throughout the team using tools and processes that will allow everyone to observe the benefits and productivity improvements.

Some things you can try as an individual or within your teams:

  1. Today + Tomorrow To-Do List:

    1. Use any To-Do app that you like and make a master list of everything you know you have to do in the ‘Tomorrow’ List. Every morning, before you get started, comb through the tomorrow list and drag and drop items from there into the Today List. Once you’ve planned your day, do NOT deviate until absolutely necessary.

    2. If you use an iPhone - you can use the default reminders app. If you want to give your team visibility (highly recommended), you can use Asana (https://asana.com/) which creates these lists by default.

    3. This simple ritual, done daily, will allow you to get through your day faster and reduce your frustration.

    4. If someone asks you to do something else in the middle of the day, slot it in only if you have bandwidth. If not - just add it to the tomorrow list and if it’s urgent, tell them you will do it then. Do NOT over-burden yourself by saying yes to changes. If you do notice changes daily, in your planning exercise - leave a 2 hour buffer for unexpected things that may come on your plate. But you’ve already planned for it so you’ll be happy!

  2. Meetings:

    1. We’ve often found that meetings are the best when there is an agenda. However, most people do not come in prepared. The meetings quickly switch to status updates and the action items often are about people having to do research on what needs to be done next.

    2. Our solution to your next meeting is - with every calendar invite - please have a 3 part note: Agenda, Preparation Needed for the Meeting, Goals of the Meeting. If any attendee has not prepared for the meeting, politely ask for it to be rescheduled but do not spend time discussing it. You’ll most likely not arrive at a decision.

    3. Ofcourse, if you are using a todo app for your team, just add the preparation items needed for your meetings as things people need to do for the day of the meeting. The planned-tasker will be sure to add it to her ‘today’ list one day prior so she’s always prepared.

Can Bijli Help with Planned-Tasking?

Short Answer. Yes.

Long Answer: Bijli asks you at the start of the day to check-in to what all you need to do today. This is open to everyone within your team (unless you specific otherwise) so everyone knows what you are doing and can communicate with you only for relevant items.

As you go through your day, you can check-in to whatever you are working on. This allows others to know when you are in the zone, and when you are available to chat. Any new to-dos assigned to you don’t show up in your today-list unless you want it to.

You can also get a timeline view to see what you’ve done, what you are doing and what you may have to do so you and your colleagues understand your workload.

When you complete your todo, you simply checkout of it so everyone knows you’ve finished it. No more status update meetings and you are on you way home!

Have Some Thoughts?

We’d love to hear from you so we know what helps you get through your day productively. We’ll keep this list updated so others benefit too (ofcourse giving you credit for sharing your thoughts). If its something Bijli can leverage, we’d be get you involved in the process of implementing it so you can automate your productivity process for you, your team and others as well.