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The void

I’m working on 3 projects at the moment. Different timelines, different stakeholders, different complexity.

Despite this I’m regularly asked if I have capacity to take on even more. In order to keep my head above water I have to say no on a regular basis.

Trying to manage 3 projects means that I spend about 20% on project A, 20% on project B, and 20% on project C, and 40% of my time is lost. Gone. Where? Into the void.

The void is where I waste time flipping between tasks, refreshing my mind on the current status, re-reading notes, organising my thoughts. Nothing productive happens in the void. No progress is made, but it’s impossible to escape.

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The more projects, the greater the void. The more distraction, the bigger the loss of time. This chart summarizes the impact of ‘context switching’ perfectly.


Bottom line 1: The consequence of loading people up with multiple projects is that they are only being given the opportunity to do an ok job on multiple things rather than an awesome job on just one. You sacrifice quality for quantity.

Bottom line 2: There is a finite number of minutes in a day, and there is a significant cost to pay by asking someone to split them across multiple projects. That cost = more time lost in the void

Weirdly it’s waste that managers seem scared of and want to avoid, but rather than having people ready and waiting to do work as it comes up, they think that overloading us means that we are productive 100% of the time. This, quite simply, is nonsense.

The Japanese manufacturing and automobile industries figured this out 20+ years ago and started applying lean principles and creating frameworks to allow for iterative cycles of production. Whilst this adds wait time for some people / aspects of the process, it’s less wasteful and more productive and efficient overall. This reverse logic seems to be really hard for most people to grasp. The idea of someone not having something to do all of the time freaks today’s corporate managers out.

There’s a great book about this concept, The Goal, by Eliyahu Goldratt, I highly recommend it. It’s an easy read as it’s written as a story rather than a text book.

Do what you can to avoid the void today. If that means saying no to taking on new work, and being ready and available to continue or finish existing work, do it.

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