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You should never multitask; what you should do is rank tasks based on impact. It might sound trivial, but if you are conscious about it, you can use this skill to advance your career, fast.
Rune, 32, applies both principles in his daily routines. Currently Director of B2B Sales Product Operation and Innovation at DONG Energy, he is a husband, father and former Junior Partner at McKinsey & Co.
Becoming a Junior Partner at McKinsey & Co is impressive although this is not Rune's driving force. Instead, he prefers to focus on how success at the ‘The Firm’ is determined by your ability to help your team, live the McKinsey values and meet the increasing demands associated with moving up the career ladder.
We asked Rune for career advice, and this is the first of a short series of blogs featuring insights from a humble and ambitious individual.
Despite this modesty, Rune stresses two topics: Prioritization and Multitasking - or rather, not Multitasking.
Focus on the 20% of your tasks that lead to 80% of your results.
This is known as the Pareto Principle or the ‘80/20 rule’.
“You will always have a limited number of hours and more analysis to do and more questions to ask. Before you start answering any questions, you need to know – at least roughly – which question, when answered, will give you the most impact. Your job, as a management consultant, is to identify the 20% and apply yourself to it.”
So, how do you decide which tasks to prioritize?
“Figure out, what needs to be done, what would be nice to get done, and what are the things we should delegate to specialists.”
To be a bit more practical, you should rank tasks based on two parameters: Impact and feasibility.
Impact is whatever matters in the context. It can be anything from optimizing revenue to spending more time with your family.
Feasibility is defined by the amount of either effort or money required to complete the task.
Rank the tasks in a mental feasibility matrix and execute high feasibility (easy) and high impact tasks first.
Prioritize and complete one task at a time.
You might think you’re being productive by working on several tasks at once, but research actually suggests the opposite.
“This is a big thing for me – I don’t know how the industry feels about it – but there is actually a definitive answer to this. Multitasking is a myth – it doesn’t actually work - psychologists have looked into this many times. You are not more productive when you multitask, because you only have a finite amount of mental capacity. If you multitask, you will only be – at best – as effective as if you were focusing on one task at a time. But, as there is always a ‘switching’ cost from changing mindsets, in most cases you will actually be less productive.”
Simple tricks like muting your notifications or – perhaps more controversially – turning off your wifi for a couple of hours can make it easier to concentrate and increase your effectiveness.
“We could all make more effort to disconnect – it would do all of us a lot of good when it comes to productivity. Turning off wifi on the computer for 2 hours a day, for example, while you do the actual thinking work that you need to do. I think a lot of businesses could benefit from having concentration areas or wifi free zones.”