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How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

(OP)
I was just thinking about how I organize my time. Trying to work on multiple projects, in my case, a few things here and there:

DAILY SCHEDULE (EXAMPLE)

- Cable schedule (engineering) [Project A] --> 3 HOURS
- Review of study/report (engineering review) [Project B] --> 2 HOURS
- Review of instrumentation drawings and logic ladders [Project C] --> 2 HOURS
- E-mail correspondence --> 1 HOUR MORNING - 1 HOUR END OF DAY


That's the ideal case, realistically my day is something like this

- Email for 10 minutes & panic at the volume of e-mail that came in between last night and now (many critical items)
- Cable schedule engineering) [Project A]
---> Teams Message popup (DING)
---> Team Message call because some urgent thing exploded on another project and the customer is freaking out
---> Resume work on Cable schedule (Forget WTF is happening and have to start all over again)
---> Customer changes his/her mind and notifies via e-mail (spend next 1.5 hours trying to piece together documentation to support change notice for lost time. Realistically, just give up and resolve that you'll be working late because you just don't care enough to do the paperwork, so you end up doing it on your own time)
---> Rise and repeat

Go home and realize that you haven't finished anything. Brain hurts to complete timesheet so just guess it from your calendar and sent items.

- Review of study/report (engineering review) [Project B] --> 2 HOURS turns into lunch hour reading for the next day (or a 2 hour report condensed into 45 minutes with minimal oversight)
- Review of instrumentation drawings and logic ladders [Project C] --> 2 HOURS -- Conveniently forget about this and just wait until someone realizes or end up working late. Otherwise, have never ending workload and just doesn't seem to disappear.

I don't think I am suited to the corporate world. I think I am someone that is more of a perfectionist rather than someone who just wants to crank something out and go home after my 9-5, so I can't seem to let it slide.

I'm more of a guy that goes into work really driven to do something and if there's nothing to do, I fart around jumping between interesting things until a crisis happens. I think I should switch over to R&D.

But in all seriousness, how many things can you realistically be expected to work on each day? I am mentally fatigued at the end of each day because I am normally fully focused on the task I am working on and interruptions are very, very exhausting.
Realistically, I probably divide my time into:

- Early morning -- email catch up and most productive work then
-- Late morning -- meetings, more urgent items & general email work
-- Lunch
-- After lunch -- continue with e-mail and usually meetings
-- Late afternoon I'm too tired to do anything so I just keep to light e-mail reading (and basically think about going home)

All in all, I'd say I can work on maybe 2-3 complex topics per day. Or usually 1 complex topic in the morning and then the afternoon for light meetings and email readings. Otherwise I get so exhausted I am drained in the evening.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

I could launch into a lengthy exposition about managing your time and distractions, and I'm sure others will. Well since they will be eager to do that for me, I'll take a lateral tack:
- If left to your own, do you prefer to do deep-dives on a subject?
- Can you maintain productive concentration for hours at a stretch if nothing distracts you?
- Before you joined the workforce, did you enjoy a distraction-free environment, or have ways to manage distractions that you can't use now?

I would say "yes" to each of these questions, and therefore a work environment like yours would be difficult for me to adapt to quickly. As a matter of fact, my career has led in exactly this direction, but slowly. Thankfully I have been able to make my adaptations in small steps as the noise grows. I had to change my habits and expectations in order to deal with this. I'm also lucky that I can now set some ground rules for others so that distractions that do come to me are "pre-filtered" somewhat, to mostly things I can and should deal with, and I try to offer the same courtesy to the others.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Sounds like my last 10+ years of work; I got really good at multitasking; an endless stream of firefighting.

How many years are you into your career?
What kind/size of company?

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

I don't work at corporate jobs, but being the one engineer at a place for 5 years, or one of a few engineers for a few years, and now managing design/engineering/controls/purchasing on top of still being lead engineer for a few years, this is all too familiar.

Break up the day and fill small gaps here and there, be realistic about what you can accomplish, delegate tasks as much as possible. But I know ultimately I am the person that makes tough decisions, solves hard problems, works around barriers that others can't navigate, and gets stalled projects moving again so the workflow and distractions are somewhat required as part of role of the engineering and problem solving team.

I find myself working in shorter chunks of time, I'll break a project into several sub-tasks so I can start chipping away at it over the course of a few days without having to start over and find that working headspace again. I'm trying to get people to figure out how to keep moving around these roadblocks so their work isn't interrupted, so I can collect them and tackle everything during a team meeting. I communicate longer timelines to customers, and I ask for more time in scheduling and constantly battle the higher management as to why engineering/design takes so long.

You need to learn what you can let go. I stopped reading every email, especially those I'm just on copy for. If it's important they'll call, otherwise the email can wait. My inbox is several hundred unread emails deep, and I no longer care about having a zero on those boxes.

I have not compromised the high level, 'perfectionist' type behavior that compels me to read and re-read my email drafts before sending, going over my drawings several times to refine them, making new worksheets and tools to better translate brain working onto paper, etc. - which is probably a good contributor as to why I haven't given up on this work and gone mad from the maelstrom. But again, knowing where to focus it to produce good results on a project - like no longer obsessing over something trivial like a spare parts list and letting that consume half of my day like it used to.

But you're right, working like this is mentally exhausting, and my home life suffers. But I love the challenge, I have similar fulfilment in being the go-to guy for everything and putting out all those fires and keeping things moving along as I do when completing the big projects and the difficult engineering tasks.

If you can't adapt, you might need to make a bigger change.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Prior to working for govt I always deferred to the various projects' plans to decide the day's critical tasks, so the question of how many tasks were accomplished depended entirely on what I'd signed up for months prior. Those were my priority, lengthy tasks otherwise had to fit around them.

Every time study since creation has shown that both quality and efficiency decrease while multi-tasking, so you need to remain focused on avoiding distractions and complete each task before moving on to the next. The classic outcome of trying to multi-task is the OP's, you wear yourself out working hard yet accomplishing little-nothing. IME the biggest waste of time engineers face is a lack of attention to the scope of their own work. We tend to be naturally curious and helpful so its easy to get side-tracked with others' work in emails and meetings. Avoid unnecessary emails and dont even read lengthy/chain emails, if an email needs more than one minute or one reply its time for a phone call or meeting. Challenge unnecessary invites and poorly run meetings via your project manager bc their purpose is to keep everyone working fast and efficient. Senior management typically wants 110% of your attention in meetings, but dont waste time focused on others' issues in lower-level meetings - work during the meeting or leave. Help others, esp junior colleagues but dont do their work. Constantly ask yourself if you are adding value to YOUR own work or just wasting time, and if others are wasting yours then politely call it out.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

"...how many things can you realistically be expected to work on each day?..."

I agree the answer is probably 2, maybe 3. This accounts for the big chunk of time to do "the thing" and the transition time between to do "the incidentals" (correspondence, filing, meeting, eating, bathroom breaks, coworker chats).

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Agreed 2 or 3 different primary tasks per day is a good zone for me. Lately I find myself trying to break the day into two major segments. But I have relatively few projects going simultaneously and they are Big projects. When I was younger and at another firm we did many small projects and it was not uncommon to approach 4-5 different tasks a day. As I have gained experience I have learned that important things take a good amount of thought even before the actual production begins. Now I have the advantage of working on big well funded projects so I can give them the attention I feel they deserve. I do not wish to go back to the old days where I was churning out multiple little projects a week.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Obviously you need to 80/20 this. What is the 20% of stuff that is consuming 80% of your brainpower?

The constant firefighting is derailing everything. Are you being too responsive to client requests? If they are changing their minds halfway through, maybe you started too early? Try to keep the projects in front of you, anticipating and delegating tasks in lieu of only responding to the current issues.

Some issues require immediate attention. Others do not. Finally others require no attention.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Ask your management to help you prioritize.

When they don't do that, carry on as best you can.

It's management's job to manage clients and insulate you from distractions. If they don't or won't do that then they are de facto part of your job description.

Each dollar in your paycheck spends the same, no matter what you were doing to earn it.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

probably plenty of spare time if you are able to come onto the forum and write a post about it?

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Generally 2 or 3, but sometimes half a dozen... it varies a bunch.

So strange to see the singularity approaching while the entire planet is rapidly turning into a hellscape. -John Coates

-Dik

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Several ... but only one at a time.

When the off-the-wall request comes in ... "I want to finish this before I start that, so that I can do both with a clear mind".

Most people understand. The ones that don't, aren't given a choice in the matter.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

I've been struggling with this for years. I found a few little things to help in my specific work environment.

1. I set up an email filtering system (works on Gmail and Outlook) which chucks stuff into various folders, and it helps "chunk" similar work together. I have a folder for Building Department stuff, marketing/advertising (easy to clean it up with two clicks if nothing is useful), projects for which I'm tangentially involved (generally mark those all as "read"), orders/receipts that pdf themselves and save their attachments automatically to my computer, folders for current projects, etc.

2. When there's something I can't handle or it's not my project, I delegate it right away. I transfer the call or forward the email to someone who can handle it. YMMV

3. Aggressively make standards. Things like calculations, tables, checklists, and details. It takes a shit ton of time to set up but pays dividends to speed up tasks and keep focused. They also don't need to be perfect; if a standard can cover 50-90% of cases, it's worth the time. It also saves mental energy for focusing on other things.

4. Putting out fires will inevitably happen, and it might be hours or weeks before I get back to a task. So I have a system of periodically jotting down where I'm up to (link). I'm thinking of upgrading this to an actual, full blown project management system for the firm. Just need to make sure it'll help more than it hurts.

5. Organize to the teeth. Finding a document or drawing you need is a form of task switching. If everything is well organized, boom! You didn't just save 10 seconds of searching; you saved your brain from getting distracted.

6. Do stuff thoroughly and anticipate problems before people call. Phone calls are the single most distracting thing in my world, so I try to prevent them before they happen.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Quote (milkshakelake)

3. Aggressively make standards. Things like calculations, tables, checklists, and details. It takes a shit ton of time to set up but pays dividends to speed up tasks and keep focused. They also don't need to be perfect; if a standard can cover 50-90% of cases, it's worth the time. It also saves mental energy for focusing on other things.

I am amazed by the "not invented here" push-back I keep getting to doing this. I have to collaborate with other engineers in the department, and it seems that if they didn't write the analysis - from scratch - they won't use it. Never mind that I prepared one 2 years ago as a template for everyone to use, or 1 year later another guy was assigned to make a universal template of the exact same thing, the 3rd engineer won't use either one.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

@Sparweb I've worked in a few firms, small to medium size, and haven't had that experience. When someone makes a new standard, it gets checked and everyone starts using it. Inevitably, some tweaks are made and the standard is updated. I guess the infrastructure for doing this has to come from top down. In your case, it's triple the work for no reason.

RE: How many "things" can you consistently work on per day?

Then your first word is most pertinent: Aggressively.

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