How often have you heard someone say they were good at “multitasking?” You may have even seen this listed as a desired skill in a job posting. While multitasking may seem to allow for greater productivity and efficiency, the reality is that this approach to work - quickly shifting between tasks, emails, and phone calls - doesn’t allow you to become fully engaged in any of these tasks. “Multitasking” can also be a euphemism for distracted working (for example, when you are finishing a report, texting the babysitter, and checking out recipes on Pinterest at the same time). The result, then, is slowed productivity and diminished quality of your work.
Though the path away from multitasking may seem difficult, there is a way out - with agile! Agile practices are built around a technique for time and project management that is useful for PMs and all types of projects called “timeboxing.” Timeboxing is the practice of focusing on one project task - without distractions - for a short, pre-defined period of time.
Though agile methodology originally emerged as a project management approach to software development, it has since evolved to work for projects in a variety of industries. Timeboxing starts with the principle that deadlines matter, and that delivering value to customers by the dates specified is more important than addressing every detail of the project scope.
Timeboxing also has a significant impact on how project team members work. Short - but reasonable - deadlines help curb procrastination, as completing a project task typically takes up the amount of time that is allocated for it. Short deadlines also help keep the project team’s focus on creating value, rather than the nitty-gritty details. By staying focused on the “big picture,” project teams can avoid getting held up by a problem related to a non-essential feature or detail.
How Can You Adopt a Timeboxing Approach?
A great place to start with implementing timeboxing on your project team is in meetings. By setting a tight deadline for the length of a meeting, the team is under pressure to cover issues that matter most; there is no time for rambling, side-tracked discussions. Timeboxing a meeting also helps ensure that it will start and end on time, as participants will be aware that there is limited time in which to reach decisions.
Working independently, team members can also use timeboxing to manage their own productivity. Here at Cheetah Learning, we are an almost entirely virtual company - our team members work from home across time zones. In this type of work environment, the temptation to “multi-task” can be strong; breaking up our daily work into timeboxes of focused productivity allows us to keep our projects moving along quickly.
Lastly, the timeboxing approach can be elaborated and expanded to organize a much larger, more time-consuming project. In addition to breaking down projects into timeboxes to complete project tasks - which may grow to an overwhelming number for large project - a timeboxed project can be broken down into phases called “iterations” or “sprints.” In our current “sprint” at Cheetah, we meet for 15 minutes daily to brainstorm new marketing ideas and review the success of the previous day’s efforts. Each day of the sprint involves multiple project tasks, and daily sprint meetings are used to both plan and review these activities. A “sprint,” however, should not be confused with the entire project - our marketing sprint is just part of our ongoing, larger marketing project.
Timeboxing can be used to set tight deadlines for all scales and phases of a project - whether it be completing a small project task in a short amount of time, planning the project, or giving feedback. Anyone can use this technique to speed up projects in their professional and personal lives - even if this is the only agile practice you use!
About the Know How Network and Cheetah Learning
The Know How Network is a monthly column written by Michelle LaBrosse, the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. Distributed to hundreds of newsletters and media outlets around the world, the Know How Network brings the promise, purpose and passion of Project Management to people everywhere. Visit www.cheetahlearning.com to learn more about Cheetah PM, the fastest way to learn about Project Management and get your PMP. You can also get your career in gear with CheetahWare, free Project Management tools from Cheetah Learning.
About the Author
Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and Project Management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into the market leader for Project Management training and professional development. In 2006, The Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org, selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry. Michelle is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner & President Management program for entrepreneurs, and is the author of Cheetah Project Management and Cheetah Negotiations. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company and has 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide.