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Increasing productivity: Working in steps



We live in the era when companies are getting bigger day by day and when bosses expect their employees to complete greater volumes of work in ever more restrictive timeframes. Efficiently managing all the tasks while also trying to please all team leaders and/ or colleagues can be frustrating.

The question then stands: Which task is more important? Especially when your team leaders ask you to prioritize one task before of another. This scenario offers 2 possible options:

  1. Complete task sequentially, one after the other.
  2. Multitask

  1. In the first scenario, “Complete task sequentially,” the advantages are that you manage to complete one task after the other and finish a part of them, at least, in due time. To better emphasize the advantages of this we can look at an example:

Let’s say you have to finish 3 urgent tasks, for 3 different colleagues, within the next 3 days. You can work on all the tasks every day and finish all 3 of them in the last day, thus risking to delay your colleagues’ work. This will ultimately make them, or the project they are working on, less efficient. The other, more viable, option is that you can finish task no. 1 in day 1, task no. 2 in day 2 and task no 3. in day 3. This will make at least 2 colleagues pleased because you have completed the task they required from you before its deadline. Both you and your colleagues can benefit more from work completed on time.

  1. Multitasking

The advantage of multitasking relies only on doing simple tasks like cooking, watching TV or stapling some papers while having a conversation with your colleague about the project you are working on. Another advantage is that multitasking interrupts the feeling of monotony.

However, studies have shown that people who multitask have a higher chance of NOT getting things done before the deadline. In the article “The inefficiency of worker time use”, authors Coviello, Ichino, and Persico have done a study on the Italian judges who typically get more cases than they can easily handle. The findings suggest that judges who juggled with multiple tasks have taken more time to complete them and were less likely to do this within the deadline.

So why do so many employees multitask?

Let’s take the example from above: 3 urgent tasks, 3 different colleagues and 3 days to finish the project. When one of them asks you how work on the task is going, it is hard to answer “I haven’t started to work on that task you assigned because it’s second or third on my priority list”. Almost all of us want to have an answer like: “I’ve been working on it.”

With these 2 approaches in mind (completing a tasks in a sequence or by multitasking) we can see that the problem is not just a matter of prioritization but also a matter of feelings. So, in order to be more efficient we need to be more pragmatic. We need to have a certain schedule and reserve time in our calendar to finish tasks in a sequence. Another way to be more pragmatic is to have individual KPIs to measure your progress. They are useful especially at long projects, for example:

  • % Emails read
  • % Emails replied
  • # Task per day
  • % Tasks completed per day
  • % Tasks finished within the deadline
  • % Project completion

In conclusion, we need to become more oriented to get tasks done one at a time; this will also help us finish them faster and within the set deadline. To maintain this approach, we need to be more pragmatic; this can be done through the simple use of a calendar and by measuring our progress through the use of specific KPIs.


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