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Juggle Much?

Posted by imtechnology On


Juggling balls in hand used to keep things in the airAt least once a quarter I have the opportunity in my professional life to listen to some really smart people give advice and frankly it's tough to apply every idea that's shared. This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts that are an attempt to share my takeaways from these folks.



Dave Crenshaw - Author of The Myth of Multitasking spoke at an event a few years ago. Here are my takeaways as well as other random observations that are my own:

There are 3 types of people in this world

  1. Zen Master - always organized
  2. Lost Soul - fallen off the organized wagon
  3. Pigpen (from Peanuts) - no idea how to get organized, never been organized either

Successful  businesses have processes and procedures, systems that they have in place to ensure efficient operation and repeatable, reliable outcomes. As an individual, why should I be any different? According to Dave, the average employee loses 28% of their productive day to interruptions. If you want to scare yourself, run the numbers on that against your total payroll.

If an employee makes $25 per hour and works (include travel time, thinking about work time and actual at work time) 9 hours per day then $25 x 8 x28% = $56 per day in money lost to interruptions, to distractions, to multitasking. As an employer I spend a significantly higher amount of my thinking time devoted to work-related thoughts. Most employers are paid more than $25 an hour so...

Juggling or having a lot of balls in the air is a common analogy for someone who is busy or multitasking but when you think about it, jugglers really aren't multitasking at all. They are performing a singular task in a repetitive fashion and the best jugglers do that with a particular rhythm.

So what is the impact of multitasking?

  1. Time to finish the task increases (due to the mental cost of switching between tasks - excludes involuntary and subconscious activities)
  2. The quality of the work drops (maybe it wasn't made on a Monday morning after all)
  3. Stress increases
  4. Quality of relationships drop

There's a difference between switching tasks and background tasking. Switch tasking involves active engaging tasks.

Ask yourself this question: What are the two most valuable activities that you do? How many hours that you work do you spend doing those only? Most business owners spend 20% or less of their time doing those activities.

How do we change that?

Order of Offloading

  1. Improve personal systems - reduce switching - (turning off email notifications might be a good start and also consider doing things in 90 minute sprints where you only do one activity)
  2. Improve your business systems
  3. Utilize the best technology (be efficient and organized)
  4. Utilize outsourcing (oDesk, Fiverr, many others)
  5. Make a hire for those important but not most valuable uses of your time

Personal Systems

  1. Time budget - underspend - never schedule any day more than 2/3 full. Maybe even 50% full is enough. Also draw a line in the sand and have defined work hours. Your family will thank you.
  2. Limit those "Hey I've got a quick question" interruptions. Think switching cost
  3. If we foster a culture of now that causes high switching costs in our company. Convert to a culture of when and establish daily 1 to 1 huddles with people who need your time and attention. They need to be sacred and inviolate. Schedule the frequency and length according to the needs of the other person.
  4. Set voicemail expectations right in your message - set a response timeframe and stick to it
  5. Hire a gatekeeper and set up a yes, no and maybe list of those who can get through. If you're in sales set up a separate sales number so they can always get through and then don't give it out to anyone but prospects and clients.
  6. Establish the fewest number of gathering points as possible. Eliminate places for clutter to hide. Don't be a pack rat (includes email). Nowhere to hide means less clutter. Your goal is 6 or fewer.
  7. Have and keep a clean mind. Get in the habit of quickly recording those thoughts and ideas that just come to you. Use it consistently and check it frequently. Evernote and OneNote are great options and can be shared amongst phones, tablets and computers. They can capture handwriting, typed text, web sites, audio, video and pictures. No excuses then.
  8. It's important to be present wherever you are. If we're not it communicates to them that they're unimportant. Even my dog Sullivan knows this and that's why he hates smartphones.

To change your business you have to change your personal systems. Open door policies sound nice and friendly but they're not good for minimizing interruptions. As Robin Robins advises set up some "orange cone time" where you give your staff a visual signal that you're not to be disturbed and then honor those 1 to 1 commitments.

Remember that jugglers only look like they're multitasking. The good ones make it look effortless and in my humble opinion are amazing. So find your rhythm, be a good juggler and strive for amazing.

Previously published on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/juggle-much-stuart-bryan Photo by Dani Simmonds


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