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How to Maximize Efficiency by Grouping Tasks

How to Maximize Efficiency by Grouping Tasks
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    There’s a metaphor many of use on a daily basis that compares our brain to a car or a bicycle with gears. I need to shift gears or my head’s in the wrong gear for this indicates that the human brain, for the sake of efficiency and concentration, hones in on the task at hand to the point where it takes time to remove our concentration from the subject matter and move on to something else.

    This is something we experience all the time—for instance, when I’ve been working on the budget and getting invoices and receipts in order for tax time I’ll need to take a break to refresh my mind before moving on to work such as writing this article, which is a different type of work—creating data rather than processing it—and a different subject matter.

    In Your Memory: A User’s Guide the author Alan Baddeley refers to a study conducted by Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot in which the memory of chess masters were compared with those of average club players. The masters were the players who frequently played with a blindfold on.

    In one experiment he set out a chess board in a position selected from a game, allowed his chess players a series of five-second glimpses of the board, and after each glimpse required them to attempt to reproduce the position on another board. The masters correctly placed 90 per cent of the pieces after a single five minute glimpse, whereas the weak players positioned only 40 per cent of the pieces after one glimpse, and needed eight glimpses before they could equal the initial performance of the masters. Excerpted from Your Memory: A User’s Guide.

    What was the conclusion of de Groot’s study, along with a number of other experiments? That the master chess player’s superior skills comes from their ability to see the board as an organized whole rather than as a bunch of disconnected and individual pieces.

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    What’s that got to do with anything? Your mind organizes not at a minute level, but by clumping small, related things into cohesive wholes. To the mind, checking email, reading RSS and reading snail mail from the letterbox all end up as one thing—communications processing.

    If You Think in Groups, Work in Groups

    So, through anecdotal observation and personal experience (both highly regarded forms of scientific evidence, I assure you) we’ve established that the mind “shifts gears” in order to hone in on a particular task and think in the fashion required to complete it, or solve any problems pertaining to it. We’ve established that it then takes time to shift the gears of our brain to deal with other problems optimally. And, we’ve obtained legitimate scientific evidence to explain this and gain some insight into why this occurs.

    The natural, practical conclusion is that if you think in groups of related ideas that form wholes, then you should work that way too. Going against the flow of the human mind is only counter-productive, so instead of doing small chunks of the bookkeeping in between writing articles—since it’s so hard to keep going at it in one sitting!—we should group those related bookkeeping tasks together and tackle them in one go, right?

    The practical exercise would be to try it both ways and measure, down to the minute, the time it takes to complete the bookkeeping and the articles using both methods. I can guarantee that, if you mix tasks up through the day:

    • You spend more time completing the tasks,
    • You spend more time switching between tasks,
    • You have lost a significant amount of the day.

    Every time you stop what you’re doing and make a coffee and enjoy the sun for ten minutes after that half hour bookkeeping before you get stuck into an article, you lose time. Every time you have to pick up where you left off, you lose time figuring out where you actually left off and getting back onto the next tasks. And at the end of the day, when you add this up, you could be losing two hours because your style of task planning isn’t efficient.

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    Baddeley explains in his section on mental organization that the brain also categorizes things by your attitudes, beliefs and expectations. This may seem like an obvious factoid to bring up, but the truth is it means groups can only be defined by you.

    For instance, I put checking email, snail mail and reading RSS in the same group earlier on in the article—you may organize email, snail mail and phone calls in the same group while putting RSS with browsing and research.

    Getting a Grip on Groups

    List all the tasks you complete in a day, from the 8am email check through to the 5pm task review (or whatever it is you do). Everything. Then, using either paper or a mind-mapping tool, group all of those tasks together in what seems like a logical match to you. There’s no right or wrong, obviously, since whatever your brain is telling you is the way that you think about those tasks.

    If you have fairly large groups or lonesome tasks, that’s okay. The largest groups will make up the bulk of your crunch time, because you should tackle those tasks consecutively for maximum efficiency. The lonesome tasks will be good for breaking up any large groups, since it’s particularly hard to shift gears from one really huge area to another huge one.

    You should also figure out any tasks you perform weekly or monthly and group them too, though this can get trickier. Only attempt this if you’re an uber-productivian, the kind of person who actually lists reading this blog on their task list.

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    When you’re done, schedule them in groups, saving the most challenging groups and the largest groups for the times of day when you have the most energy, and the fairly low-involvement groups for the start and the end of the day. For instance, checking email and RSS is a fairly easy but productive way for me to get started, so I put that at the beginning of my day and get it out of the way. It gets me into the office routine and by the time those tasks are done I’m awake and ready for the real work.

    Examples of Groupings

    Communication is a big one, but unfortunately, it’s also fairly hard to group—you may have phone calls coming in and out all day, emails that need to be dealt with on the fly (avoid this at all costs if your work allows for it), and so on. However, in my workday, it looks something like this:

    • Email
    • RSS
    • Snail mail – bills, bank statements
    • Instant messaging (if you’re a web-worker, that’s like the conference room)

    Housework, however, is pretty easy to figure out—and we all have a pretty similar idea of what that entails.

    • Sweeping, vacuuming and mopping floors
    • Washing dishes, cleaning kitchen
    • Bathroom cleaning,
    • Laundry

    I know some people who spread the housework out through the day and take breaks in between. We all do it. But, if housework is viewed as a grouped task set, it can take an hour to do what usually takes you two.

    Your groups may (in fact, definitely will) vary – these are just examples of the groups of tasks I use to organize my day.

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    Auxiliary Benefit

    Instead of micromanaging my schedule, preset groups allows me to schedule much faster. I can simply plot Communications for 8am, Research for 9am and Writing for 12. It’s certainly not the reason for using this scheduling technique, but it does provide one more reason to actually do it.

    Schedule Consistently

    Perform your grouped task sets on a consistent basis – for weekly groups, do it on the same day at around the same time. For daily groups, do them in roughly the same order. Developing a routine allows your brain to shift those gears more easily, because they know what to expect.

    Grouping tasks is a simple, even trivial, technique, but after a few practical tests I’m convinced that it can save me a couple of hours in every day—exactly what I needed to find! However, if you like to break up tasks into more palatable chunks and aren’t looking for a few more hours in the day, then it might just drive you crazy to try this.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on February 19, 2020

    11 Google Chrome Apps & Features for Getting More Done with Less Effort

    11 Google Chrome Apps & Features for Getting More Done with Less Effort

    In today’s fast-paced and never-ending busy world, we are overwhelmed by tasks that need to be completed by tight deadlines. With so much technology it is difficult to find the right tools to help boost our efficiency. And, many tools get obsolete so its essential to stay up-to-date to know when you will have to make adjustments to these tools. Independently of where you work, there’s a good chance that you have to be working on a PC or a laptop.

    Do you are feel like you do not have enough time, or cannot accomplish much as of late? It is recommended to take a step back and look at the big picture. Also, you want to explore new and innovative ways to improve productivity.

    In this article, I outline 11 features and apps within the Chrome browser that can help you do just that.

    Minimizing Tabs

    Let’s face it we all have more than a dozen tabs opened on our computers. One neat trick to still keep most of them open is to turn them into pinned tabs. On Google Chrome you can right-click the tab and select “Pin Tab” option. This turns the tab into an icon enabling you to continue multitasking.

    Pinning a tab anchors the tabs on the left of your toolbar; a great benefit of the “Pin Tab” feature is that you can’t close these tabs accidentally since the “X” disappears after pinning them.

    Incognito Mode

    Google Chrome is a very easy-to-use and intuitive. But, Google does collect our browsing data; so to remedy this, you can use Incognito Mode. This feature does not keep your browsing or download history. You can enable or access it in three different ways:

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    1. Press Ctrl/Command+shift+N
    2. Select File Menu and choose New Incognito Window
    3. Download extension New Incognito Window

    This feature is very handy if you’d rather not have your browsing history stored and utilized for future advertisement or suggested pages.

    Save Webpages as PDF Files

    Have you ever browsed interesting or important information and then forgot to bookmark or save it in “favorites”, making it impossible to find again? Chances are you have done this on a number of occasions.

    Thankfully, there is an easy solution. You can save webpages as PDF files. On your keyboard, press control/command+p and you will be able to save webpages as PDFs.

    Open Recently-closed Tabs

    Ever had dozens of tabs opened and all of a sudden your browser shuts down? It has probably happened to all of us. You can easily recover all of your tabs using two approaches. Don’t panic if this happens because there is a workaround and solution for it.

    One is by pressing Ctrl/CMD+Shift+T.

    The other approach is to click on the three vertical dots on your browser and hover over “History”.

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    Solve Mathematical Problems

    Google’s Chrome browser doesn’t just search for relevant and updated information. It is also capable of performing some mathematical problems. Within the omnibox (Chrome’s address or URL bar), you can perform mathematical exercises.

    For example, if you are struggling with percentages you can search 20 percent of x amount and it will instantly provide a result. Pretty handy, right?!

    Play Media Files

    Are you frequently met with difficulties when playing or watch a video files? Well, once again Chrome comes to the rescue. You can can listen or play videos from all sorts of movie or music files (mp3, mp4, .mov, .mkv, .ogv, .webm, .wav, etc.) by simply dragging the file into the search bar.

    In addition, you can view images, PDF files and Microsoft Office files, too.

    Navigate Swiftly Between Tabs

    With all of those tabs opened comes great navigation responsibilities. Rather than clicking through every tab, you can use shortcut keys like Ctrl+Tab to navigate all of the different tabs. Also, you are able to navigate to the first tab by pressing Ctrl-1, Ctrl-2, and so on. If you want to switch to the very last tab, press Ctrl-9.

    Stay Focus(e)d

    Computers nowadays have awesome capabilities.

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    Sometimes we like to get work done, but let’s face it, we’re all human. We sometimes procrastinate by visiting a website we really like, or maybe take a break with watching a flick on Netflix, a video on YouTube or browsing Facebook.

    With Chrome’s StayFocusd extension, you can truly stay focused and get more done in less time.

    This extension naturally helps you stay more productive by limiting the amount of time you spend on websites. You can set the time and it will automatically block those sites after a certain period.

    Grammarly for Editing

    Grammarly is a must have, and it’s really a complete powerhouse. Grammarly helps you check your grammar and spelling for everything you write online.

    You can use it professionally or as a student, which will make the editing process much easier and more efficient. Furthermore, it can automatically check for typos when you send an email, type a Tweet, or post a Facebook comment. It’s like having your own personal copyeditor!

    Loom

    There are times that words in an email or written text in a chat app will just not convey the right meaning.

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    There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, the same is true of videos.

    With Loom, you can capture, narrate and immediately share video recordings of your screen, which will help coworkers understand issues you are facing, or to easily convey an explanation on screen. Plus, with video you will be able to easily walk people through a process, and you can use it to create simple how-to videos.

    Chrome Calendar Extension

    No matter what your level of responsibility is at your job, Google Calendar is another essential resource to have at your fingertips.

    Specifically, you can have this extension added as an icon in the toolbar of your browser, which I highly recommend. Once you add the extension to your browser, you can check for upcoming events with a single click without leaving your current page.

    Final Thoughts

    Google Chrome has definitely evolved from its inception. As you can see you have a very powerful tool that comes as a free installation and is loaded with dozens of capabilities. The above listed Chrome apps can resolve some of the most common obstacles to your time management and productivity.

    Featured photo credit: Benjamin Dada via unsplash.com

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