Over the last several years, we have learned how our brains are programmed for productive performance. With the advent of the Internet and other advanced technological tools, we can do more in less time. We can multi-task, work remotely, perform in virtual teams and do a host of other things that were unthinkable in past centuries.
When it comes to productivity, experts agree that several techniques can be used. Chunking tasks, for example, has gained popularity recently, as professionals from project managers to consultants have seen the positive effects of this technique.
What Is Task Chunking?
Simply defined, chunking tasks means focusing on one activity – or a set of similar or related activities – at once and completing it before moving to the next task. For example, if a receptionist is on the phone answering a customer’s inquiry and a colleague asks a question, it is best that he or she ends the call before replying to the colleague.
From a neuronal point of view, chunking tasks is effective because it adapts to the way our brain works, especially how human memory operates.
Task Chunking vs. Multi-Tasking
Unlike task chunking, multi-tasking is a process whereby an individual attempts to perform several unrelated activities at once. Although praised as a desirable professional skill in some sectors, multi-tasking in the long run has proven to be ineffective.
For example, in our earlier example with the receptionist, he or she may perform both tasks simultaneously – talking to the customer and replying to the colleague – but her productivity might decrease. She might, say, give the wrong answer to the co-worker or provide incomplete details to the client. This is because the receptionist brain has to think about each question, define alternative answers, process them and choose the reply that best corresponds to each inquiry. The process may be easy if he or she were discussing light topics with the interlocutor, but things could get complicated if either conversation touches on a complex topic that requires his or her full attention.
How to Manage Tasks By Time Chunking
Chunking tasks might sound easy to some, but it requires preparation, discipline and a certain dose of patience to allow the brain to get accustomed to this work approach.
Five steps are needed to chunk tasks effectively:
1. Categorise tasks
To chunk tasks effectively, one must categorise them. For example, a sales manager can categorise activities such as cold calls, visits to customers, lead generation, training and product sampling. That way, the manager can better focus on each task or work stream and perform it at specific moments during the day or week.
A good tool MarketingMavens recommends to categorise tasks is Wunderlist. Wunderlist is an easy tool to get stuff done. Whether you’re planning a holiday, sharing a shopping list with a partner or managing multiple work projects.
2. Set sufficient time aside for each task
Lumping tasks – another term for chunking tasks – is effective if one sets the appropriate time to perform a specific activity. Without proper resource allocation, the task at hand may not be performed adequately, leading to frustration and lack of productivity.
Another piece of free software MarketingMavens recommends to use in conjunction with Wunderlist is the Sunrise Calendar. Sunrise is a free calendar app and links with for Google Calendar, iCloud, Facebook, Trello Office365, Evernote, Exchange and many more. Available on Desktop, iPhone, iPad and Android. MarketingMavens uses Sunrise to set enough time to chunk a task.
3. Ban interruptions
It is important to avoid interruptions when undertaking tasks in chunked time slots. If, for example, a personal coach decides to devote two hours every day to client counseling, he or she must abide by that time restriction – and be fully present when advising customers.
4. Increase chunked tasks
To be productive in the long term, a professional must increase the number of chunked slots in his or her calendar. The key is to list all relevant tasks, categorize them and expand available categories.
5. Be flexible
Flexibility is essential when chunking tasks. It is worth remembering that there will be times when task lumping will not be possible, and that it is okay not to always follow a strict work regimen.
Seeing someone who is stressed – particularly another employee – can have a negative effect on one’s productivity. The important thing is to understand that everyone has a different approach to work and that chunking tasks can help reduce frustration and improve performance.
To lump activities properly, one must categorise tasks, organise them in chunks, be flexible and ban interruptions while working.
Let me know how you manage tasks? What project management tools do you use?