Archive for category: Multitasking

Snowbound! Tips for working from home

January 12th, 2010 by

The last week or two has seen some serious winter weather here in the UK. Schools have been cancelled, transport delayed, idiots arrested for driving on frozen canals, and all those other things you would typically associate with places like Canada, not the balmy UK. (No, on second thought, I take back that thing about the canals. We don’t do that in Canada, unless you count this).

Anyway, the weather’s meant that a lot of us have started 2010 by working from home. Timely as always, the Guardian published a small article with some helpful tips for those new to home working. As someone who has worked from home for the past two years, I’d say the basic advice is pretty sound and worth repeating here:

  1. Have a work space. Prepare a clear work space so that you can mentally, if not physically, separate home and work life. If you have a spare room to use as a home office, great; if not, clear off the kitchen table and do your best.
  2. Don’t forget to take regular breaks. It can sometimes feel like you need to prove constantly that you are at your desk working, but remember: it’s very rare that an entire workday at the office would be spent staring at your computer. So listen to the radio, go for a run, do whatever you like: it’s okay to take a break now and then.
  3. Be clear about what you’re working on. This is mainly a due diligence tip for those who might not normally work from home and need to demonstrate that they haven’t been wasting their time. But it’s good general advice too. Even if you are a seasoned home worker, it’s always useful to clearly set out what you hope to accomplish during a day. This is especially important for long stretches of home work when it’s all too easy to procrastinate from day to day.

One of the interviewees in the article suggests that people “stick to the work pattern they adopt at the office” and this is a good take-away message. Home work really is like working from the office, with some pros and some cons. In the past, I thought there might be more pros, like listening to music or doing a bit of laundry, but most of the time that doesn’t work. You need to have enough discipline to avoid those distractions and focus on the job at hand. This can be difficult at first but ultimately, it’s worthwhile. Once you get used to the monastic life, you may actually find that you get more done at home as there is very little outside distraction (compared with an open-plan office).

Anyone else worked from home recently? What tips do you have?

Human Task Switches Considered Harmful – Joel on Software

May 30th, 2009 by

This old post from Joel is just a fancy way of saying what psychologists studying task switching have found: it’s better to do things in batches. This is also something that GTD, Do It Tomorrow, and other productivity methods attest. The whole point of tagging things with contexts in GTD is to be able to do all related things at once (when you are in a certain context).

But wow much better is batching? Well, here’s where things gets blurry. Most task switching experiments are done with extremely simple tasks, like pressing a key when a triangle is red, and another when it’s blue vs. a similarly abstract task.

  So we know surprisingly little about what tasks gain the most from being done in batches. But this reflects a more profound lack on our theory: what is a task? How similar are two tasks? For example, how similar is driving a car to driving a bike?

A dirty operational definition would be that two tasks are ScreenShot 002 Human Task Switches Considered Harmful - Joel on Software - Mozilla Firefox more similar the more they gain when done in the same batch. However, as far as I know nobody has tested this idea. And there’s a big ‘but’: sometimes similar tasks interfere with each other. Try singing a song and writing a different song on a pentagram. Or brushing your teeth and combing at the same time. So this operational definition doesn’t seem to work well.

Why is studying multitasking important? Well, if you have a browser open while you work, you know the answer already.

Do you know of any interesting multitasking studies that use realistic materials?

Human Task Switches Considered Harmful – Joel on Software