The One with all the Multitasking

The One with all the Multitasking

Time management is by itself problematic for me, as I am not the most organised person - to put it mildly. Add further complications that arise with alternating between several projects simultaneously, and there’s a delicious recipe for panic, if you ask me. Nonetheless, there is hope in this grim world of multitasking! And in this article I will attempt to convey how I managed to overcome mayhem and achieve an auspicious state of tranquility.

So let’s cut right to it, shall we?

Say you’re a developer and your allocation at work is something like this for starters: 50% on project A and 50% on project B. In case you’re wondering, this is a relatively simple case - there were times when I was alternating between 3 and sometimes even 4 projects daily, even if just for support. Fun times. But back to our fortunate case. In a working day of 8 hours you are supposed to divide your time equally between projects A and B and be mindful of all the requests that come from both sides at all times. Sounds easy. First part of the day - A, second - B, you might plan. What can go wrong?...

Just about everything, if you don’t stay organised. Imagine you are developing an intricate logic for your first project and suddenly a lot of requests keep popping up from the project you neatly scheduled for later. Of course, at first, you might be tempted to read those emails and start responding but...beware! Your focus is already wearing thin at this point, even as you are merely considering it.

My first advice after having previously failed, naturally, is to skim through the requests and if you see danger-words like “not working anymore”, “server down”, it would be wise to attend to the pressing matter. But if you see other types of requests that you assess as “can wait”, finish your idea of development and then go through the issues of project B. This will not only keep your focus on the work in progress, but will also enable you to consider the new demands from the other project calmly, so that you can find the best approach - this roughly translates into efficiency.

There are better ways to manage multilateral work than dividing a day between projects, such as keeping a calendar of days you work exclusively on one project. You can alternate days or you can simply work two consecutive days if developing a feature requires it. Not fragmenting your work until the task in progress is done should be a golden rule! Trust me. It’s how havock multiplies and conquers all. But allow me to tell you that there will be times when avoiding this will not be possible.

Let us trace my steps back into a situation I was sometime in the past. I was working on projects A and B - so to say - and was in the middle of a complex task from an even more complex story for project A. To make things worse, I was testing various approaches because I wasn’t quite sure of the best one for that specific scenario, and having legacy code didn’t help. My code was unstable and I was aiming to fix that. However, plot twist! I had to attend to more pressing matters in project B. No postponing allowed. I pushed my unstable code on the branch and wandered off with all my might to fend off intruder issues from the other project. Little did I expect that more requests would come from project B, so I worked for several weeks on those, project A having been shunned to lower priority - as a business decision. I assume by now you can easily conclude that when returning to my long forsaken branch I was...very much challenged. It took me several days to stabilize it, to see what was a test and what was functioning code and so on.

Which brings me to the question: what could I have done better? Of course, being a business priority, I couldn’t finish my work on project A, so what then? Take notes. Yes, that simple. Simply take some notes or add comments in your code stating what you are trying to do there, for posterity if not for anything else. Seriously, though, I tried that in a more recent endeavour of this sort, and I managed to make my way through the obstacles and attain a clean victory in a considerably short period of time.

Documenting your ideas as you develop might sound tedious, it even hurts me as I type this, but the fact still remains: it’s an efficient method when working on multiple projects. If your goal is to strive and maintain a tranquil state of mind, that is.

To sum it all up, remember these short tips:

  • Try not to fragment your work too much; best attend to other matters after you finish your task in progress.
  • If the previous situation is not possible, document your ideas so that later you know what you were thinking when you stopped in the middle of the development.
  • Be mindful of all incoming requests from all the projects you are working on, but skim and select which ones you interrupt your focus for - if needed; best dedicate your full attention to the rest afterwards.
  • Try to experiment and see which approach works best for you; my experiment revealed that having a full dedicated day for a project and alternating days is better than dividing one day between multiple projects.
  • Remember that multitasking can be done efficiently if one remains composed and organised.

Regardless of how chaotic working on multiple projects can become, it’s up to us to keep a balanced mindset and take the best course of action. Hence, consider my input if you will and, if you find or have found yourself in a similar situation, share your story for the benefit of all.

Keep calm and multitask like a pro! :)

Photo credit: uberof202 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA


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