Forget Multitasking! How to Get Things Done with Parallelism

Get more done by understanding which of your tasks depend on which others, and sequence them to take the least amount of time.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #487

image of man using parallelism instead of multitasking to be more efficient

It causes me great anguish to admit it, but sometimes you can’t work less and get more done. Some things just take a certain amount of work. If you’re making lemonade out of all the lemons that life handed you, you just have to squeeze a lot of lemons. No matter how smart you work, life simply demands that you squeeze all those lemons. Completely. Even if you’re allergic to lemons and they make you sneeze. Life can be cruel.

Even though there’s no real way to work smarter, you might be able to work faster. You do that by finding ways to do things in parallel.

Parallelism: Do Something While Pregnant

Doing things in parallel means doing two things at the same time. Not actually at the exact same time, that would be multitasking, and thanks to the fine scientists at Stanford, we’ve known for almost ten years that multitasking fries your brain and turns you into a semi-coherent vegetable.

Doing things in parallel means that progress is being made on two parts of a project at once. 

Consider babies. It takes nine months to make one of those. And no matter how hard you try, it still takes pretty much nine months. (So if you want one, you better get started. And won’t your shmoopie just cry and cry when you tell them the news! And I’m sure they’re tears of joy. What else would they be?)

But while you (or shmoopie, or your surrogate, or your test tube) are busy growing a baby, it all kinda happens automatically. While baby is growing and forming and starting to become a living, breathing being that will someday be a teenager and blame you for all its problems, you can spend your time knitting exciting clothes for baby, finishing your dissertation, and orchestrating the world’s first version of Bach’s toccata and fugue in D minor for strings and didgeridoo. And that’s parallelism: you’re making a baby over the same span of time as you’re making clothes, a PhD, and a musical masterpiece.

So how do you do parallelism?

Make Things Parallel by Automating

Sometimes you can use automation to make things go parallel. If you run an online business and do email marketing, sending out an email blast can take a few hours. That becomes a few hours you can use to work on something else. Yet work is still getting done because the automated stuff happens at the same time as the manual stuff.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.