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And the award doesn’t go to… are you trying to do 10 things badly? 

And the award doesn’t go to… are you trying to do 10 things badly? 

Nicola Hopes

17 May 2022

Are you in danger of doing 10 things badly rather than 3 things well?  

Are you feeling like the proverbial butterfly, flitting in and out of key projects without feeling like you’re really making a difference? 

You’re not alone. 

Almost every client I speak to right now is feeling that way.  

Too many projects splitting focus and not enough progress on any of them. 

But when I dig into why, I think you might be doing this to yourself:  

  • “I’ve kicked off the 3-year plan but we’ve got 35 top priorities” 
  • “The Board have put a lot of pressure on, so I’ve told them we’ll start that project against my advice” 

And if you think it’s fine because you’re good at juggling priorities, you’re kidding yourself. 

I hate to break it to you, but multi-tasking doesn’t exist. Let’s lose the old sexist adage that only women can do it. NOBODY can do it.  

The thing we confuse with multi-tasking is ‘fast-switching’. And the bad news is that we don’t do that well either. 

According to research by the widely published psychologist Gerald Weinberg, each extra task or ‘context’ you switch between eats up 20–80% of your overall productivity: 

  • Focusing on one task at a time = 100% of your productive time available 
  • Task switching between two tasks at a time = 40% of your productive time for each and 20% lost to context switching 
  • Task switching between three tasks at a time = 20% of your productive time for each and 40% lost to context switching 

Even if you have a big team to lean on, splitting focus just means everything crawls along at a snail’s pace because you’re all pulling on the same subject matter experts. 

As you know, I’m all for challenging yourself with what’s possible – as long as it’s a genuine business priority.  

I’ve been to lots of award ceremonies and there are no plaudits for kicking off the most projects. Only for getting them over the line. 

I’m sure everything in your plan is a good idea – just do them in turn not in parallel.  

  1. Narrow the focus – decide what has the greatest strategic impact. Based on numbers? Competitive advantage? Culture? Values? 
  2. Throw everything you’ve got at it
  3. Deliver the results at pace.
  4. Treat the team to a glass of something delicious. 
  5. Move on to the next thing. 

You’ll get the benefits faster. And you’ll actually have some success to celebrate.  

Even better – the momentum and confidence that comes with successful delivery is like no other. 

Be the leader who’s famous for delivering (not just starting) projects.  

And, of course, don’t forget to invite me to your awards ceremony. 

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