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

Make Things Parallel by Delegating

Automating is really just a special kind of delegating, and delegating is the ultimate parallelism. When you find part of a task that can be done by someone else, delegate it to them. Then while they’re working, you can do other things.

The Wicked Witch of the West was an expert at delegating. She had an entire army of flying monkeys, and she knew how to use them. While they were hunting Dorothy and the Ruby Slippers, the Wicked Witch herself could be busy putting in place her plans to overthrow the Wizard. If she’d had to hunt down Dorothy, and then start planning her political career, it would have taken much longer.

If you need to prepare for a presentation, if you have minions, you can make great use of parallelism. Give your minions a rough sketch of the slides you need, and instructions to finish the slides (or be covered in honey and chained in the flying monkey feeding pens). While your minions are working so very, very hard to finish the slides, you can be rehearsing your presentation in the mirror, and admiring how wonderful you look in your…unique…naugahyde outfit.

You’ll be ready for the presentation far faster than if you’d done the slides yourself. 

Make Things Parallel by Waiting for Others

You can also find opportunities for parallelism any time you’ll have to wait for other people. When you’re making focaccia from scratch, for example, you know in advance that at some point you’ll have to wait for the yeast to do their job and make the dough rise. You can plan to start preparing your toppings while the yeast is working. If you sequenced the bread making and the topping preparation, you’d be in the kitchen forever. And you’d smell like yeast.

You don’t have to get pregnant to enjoy the benefits of working in parallel.

Product manager Xris is launching a new line of autonomous killer drone kits for tots. It’s a very American toy. Xris knows the graphic design department takes a week to design packaging. Getting realistic looking shades of red is always tricky. So Xris finds work that doesn’t require the graphic design department, and schedules it while the designers are busily hunting down the perfect reference for their desired shade of red.

Find Parallelism in Your Daily Life

Now, it’s your turn to find parallelism in your own life and job. Choose a major multi-day or multi-week project on your plate. List the major subtasks that have to be done in that project. 

Next, look for chances to work in parallel. Can some tasks be automated? Can some be delegated? Do some naturally include waiting for others?

When you’ve found your parallel opportunities, work them into your schedule. Start the parallel tasks together, so your machine, your minions, or your colleagues can be working away while you are, too.

You don’t have to get pregnant to enjoy the benefits of working in parallel. You can work faster by having things happen at the same time. When life gives you lemons, distribute them to a dozen minions to start squeezing. You’ll get 12 minion-hours worth of lemon juice in a single hour, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. 

I’m Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. Want great keynote speeches on productivity, Living an Extraordinary Life, or entrepreneurship? Hire me! Find me at http://SteverRobbins.com

Image of man using parallelism © Shutterstock


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.