[english] Manage projects and activities: reduce context-switches, save time and be happy…

InterruptionsBuongiorno a tutti, ecco un altro mio Post in versione inglese – spero vi possa interessare – ho già affrontato questo argomento un po’ di tempo fa…

By the way, ho appena aggiornato il mio profilo su LinkedIn, dategli pure un’occhiata: http://it.linkedin.com/in/andycavallini

[Please visit my blog http://meetingofideas.wordpress.com for additional content about Project Management and the Digital World]

Am I dreaming? I am not sure…

Looking around, I see the open-space where I used to work several years ago – I was junior, wasn’t I? – and in front of me there is a desk and a PC, with Windows XP!


My Calendar says that in a few minutes I am attending a meeting scheduled by my fantastic boss. Since I’m not looking for troubles, I promptly reach the meeting-place -it’s an office just a short walk from my open-space.

I find…I find only one of the expected participants…   … and he is here essentially because this is his office. “… our meeting?

Where is everybody else? (5/6 people)”, I ask him, looking a little bit doubtful. Without looking up from his PC, my colleague replies: “Dunno…”, followed by a bored silence.

“By the way, do you know where our boss is?” (after all, he is the one who called the meeting…) “He is upstairs, in another meeting…   …anyway, Tom today is in France, Dick and Harry will probably arrive later and Tony is quite busy with a Customer…” (Tom, Dick, Harry and Tony were invited, according to my helpful Calendar).

Since my colleague is not adding other useful and encouraging info, and considering that further exchanges would be pointless, I decide to move upstairs and see what my boss is up to. He is indeed in another meeting, busy taking notes (…about our company’s revenue projection for the next five years, or is it a shopping list for Xmas? We will never know…)

Back downstairs, to my colleague: “Look, no point in waiting here, I return to my desk to finish something…”; he briefly looks at me, with the same interest he pays to yellow crabs from Madagascar, implying: “…do whatever you want…”.

Once back at my desk, I unlock my PC and try to do some productive work…

Total time lost: apparently 10 minutes.


Actually, it’s far more, at least 25 minutes. Why? Because you have to add at least 15 minutes for the context-switch overhead – that is, time to close a task, switch to another task, and re-open the initial task again later.

Context-switches eat your day: maybe you don’t realize it, but in any project, the main cause of wasted time are interruptions. By the way, context-switch overhead time usually increases with the complexity of the activity: it’s in fact also a matter of concentration – once interrupted, I have to remember what I had on hold, I need to properly re-set my tools.

… I have to open Word again, call back the pertinent Excel sheet, move it to the bottom of the screen, re-size both the windows, and so on. Oh, and let me check again if I opened the correct versions of the documents I was working on – if I update the wrong doc, a disaster of apocalyptic proportions could take place, potentially causing the end of life on our planet! Oh, and where the hell is the Post-it note on which I wrote the password to open the XLS file?

You know what I mean, don’t you?

Do you realize how many context-switches we endure every day? Of these, how many of them are useless and stupid as the one I described above?

Especially if you are a Project Manager and your job is to plan other people’s tasks, you can easily understand how much time you – as a team – can save just by radically reducing unnecessary context-switches. Besides, reducing context-switches improves the quality of work and lowers the level of stress of your team.

Cutting interruptions is not that hard if you pay attention; you need just a little bit of common sense, a lot of respect for people and some organizational ability: all-together it costs very little, and the outcomes are considerable!

In your opinion, what is the main source of interruptions in modern companies? How do you cope with it?

Thank you for your comments.

Andy Cavallini – Business Analyst & Project Manager


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