Time Wise with Gen Y

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Everyone loves to multitask. Contrary to popular belief multitasking does not help productivity. The first efficiency loss is the time lost to mentally “switching” between tasks. Why? Two different things have to occur in our brains when we change tasks. First we have to “goal switch”, mentally deciding to go from project A to email. Then we have to “rule switch”, which means we have to think “No longer think about project A; now think about email”. For each switch there might only a second loss of time. But those seconds add up over weeks and months.

In addition, studies indicate that multitasking can result in as much as a 44% drop in efficiency. The inevitable result is a drop in quality. Not many people can afford to forfeit almost half of their efficiency or quality. If Hilda is working at half of her abilities, but still expects to churn out the same amount of work, she will undoubtedly have to lower the quality of her output to achieve this goal. Not exactly what Hilda’s manager expects from her employee!

Certainly everyone is able to multitask certain actions that they feel are almost automatic. Ben is an accomplished data programmer and chatterbox. It might be simple for him to input simple data and simultaneously carry on a conversation without experiencing much loss in productivity. Why? Because when we do something enough, we train ourselves to perform it almost automatically and thus can still be efficient while doing one other task. However, this rule does not apply for a non-automatic task, or when trying to do more than one other task at the same time. In other words, Ben can input data and talk about last night’s football game without a loss in productivity. However, he could not effectively input data, talk about the game and check email at the same time. Nor could he learn a new program and chat about the game. In either case, something will have to give, which means a loss in productivity or quality on one, two or all three fronts.

When looking at time management with Gen Y, it’s important to help them differentiate between being busy and being productive. Perhaps Mary is sitting at her desk developing a new product line. She is having trouble focusing and decides to switch her focus to the sales of the existing line, to give her some ideas for the new line. Her email icon pops up on her screen so she switches over to check her inbox; just then Brian asks her a question about her expertise. She gladly welcomes his interruption and spends some extra minutes helping him understand a concept. Before she realizes it, Mary has just spent an hour accomplishing next to nothing. She was busy the entire time, but not productive in the least. Busy being busy is not the same as busy being productive.

There is certainly something to be said for taking mental breaks to reduce stress and potentially improve performance, but it is also important to keep the focus on being productive. This concept is often hard for young workers to accept because Gen Y believes in their own abilities to achieve anything they set their mind to. What they may need however, is some help doing it more efficiently than they would on their own. That’s where an effective manager comes in. Here is some advice for all generations, and especially Gen Y, on time management skills:

Minimize Multitasking As a manager, make all employees aware of the pitfalls of multitasking; just making them aware can help avoid the pitfalls. Play a game or have some employees do their own multi-tasking case study. Getting Gen Y’s involved in their own solution is an effective way to work with the new generation. No one is going to stop all multitasking, but if you want maximum results, then it’s time to minimize it. Try doing just two tasks at once, one of which is an automatic reflex task. Minimizing to 2 tasks, and 2 windows open on your screen, will immediately increase your effectiveness and work quality.

Group Tasks into Similar Buckets David Allen, the time management guru of Getting Things Done recommends grouping tasks and writing everything down, to clear your head of clutter. Make lists and group them by theme, such as phone calls, emails and meeting agendas. This will do two things: reduce task switching in your brain and prioritize your workload. Remember to do this every night, before you go home. Otherwise, you’ll get caught in email and vm as soon as you enter the office and end up only being busy instead of being productive.

Focus, Focus, Focus Realtors say that everything is location, location, location. I believe in focus, focus, focus. Don’t let yourself be distracted by every nanotask that comes your way. Focus on what’s important, not what’s urgent. And focus on what’s productive, not just busy. To do this, set internal rules for how often you check email and vm/day (Tim Ferris of The Four Hour Workweek recommends two-three times/day). I know…you just gasped. But email begets email. Answer each email thoroughly and then move on to more important tasks.

Be Human Gen Y’s love to be connected, both online and offline. Get them offline more often and online a little less often. One rule of thumb is “If you’re talking to just me, then let’s talk in person, or on the phone if I’m out of the office. And if you’re talking to a group, then use a conference call, video or email.” Otherwise, everyone gets copied on every email, which wastes time and energy.

Make Time for Yourself Block uninterrupted time every week for projects that require uninterrupted thinking. It takes time to execute a complex spreadsheet or report; don’t let the quality decrease just because you were distracted by less complex tasks.

Avoid Micromanaging Micro managing not only steals precious time, but it also demoralizes the Gen Y generation. Explain what you want, chunk it down, set boundaries and time frames and then walk away. You will need to check-in with the employee often about the project, but that’s different from micro managing.

A check-in looks like “How’s that project going Jerrell?” What challenges are you facing? Where do you need some support?”

Micromanaging looks like “How’s the project going Jerrell? Why did you use that format? Why didn’t you use that system, like I suggested?”

Give yourself and your Gen Y employee a break. Check-in more and micro-manage less.

Here’s to a productive and effective 2009 with every generation at work!

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