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Mixed Model Work at the Office

by Danielle McGuiness
July 22, 2014

Mixed Model Work at the Office

by Danielle McGuiness
July 22, 2014 | Comments (7)

During a kind of impromptu morning huddle, a coworker and I chatted about what each of us planned to do over the course of our work day. He told me, “Get the hardest thing, or most tedious thing done earlier in the day, and then the rest is a breeze.” He’d been reading Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy and had taken to its lessons in his own work. 

In a traditional manufacturing sense, running a mixed model makes it easier to reduce the risk of overproducing any of one product and lowers finished good inventory. Also, running mixed production will result in a smooth flow of parts and even workloads throughout the factory. So what does that mean for the office? Though I’ve already incorporated some sort of mixed model to my in-office days (in order to satisfy customer need), I’m starting to think about my office routine more deeply.

As a knowledge worker, I notice I don’t dedicate the same brain power to all of my tasks throughout the day. My mind is clear and most energetic in the morning, so morning tasks tend to get my best thinking and attention. Why does this matter? If I’m putting together a proposal or working on anything having to do with strategy, these things require a clear mind and careful thought. So why would I schedule them later in the day?

Well, because doing simple things first is human nature. I think, I’ll do the simple tasks first because they’re there, they’re easy, and I know I can knock them out quickly. And some things have to go out to customers before other items. That’s just true. But I have more wiggle room than I think. 

I spend plenty of hours helping others think about level loading their work. The challenge is doing the same for myself. After some deep hansei, I’m beginning to understand my challenge: how to optimize my day while also responding to customer needs, while also giving myself a mix of challenging work intertwined with task work. I want an easier day that’s also more customer-service-friendly.

For all other knowledge workers out there, how do you struggle to optimize your work days? How do you manage your responsibilities, help others manage theirs, and plan for the future? How do you define the problem?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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7 Comments | Post a Comment
Glenn Allison July 22, 2014
2 People AGREE with this comment
This is a big struggle in IT.  We often call it context switching.  An example is an engineer working on project work, then is interrupted to respond to a support issue. When this happens over and over again it can impact project delivery.  One approach is to separate these types of work tasks so they are done in different organizational functions.  

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Danielle McGuiness July 23, 2014

Interruptions are a big deal. There’s been a lot of recent literature on the impact interrupted thoughts and the time it takes to switch back, and what’s potentially lost. It’s fascinating actually.

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Francesco Possio July 23, 2014
2 People AGREE with this comment
"I want an easier day that’s also more customer-service-friendly"

I like that!! Great post Danielle :)

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Denise Bennett July 24, 2014
2 People AGREE with this reply
Danielle, this was how surgeons traditionally organisaed their list - long complex work first while their minds were fresh, however by the time they got to the short cases they had run our of time. So the model changed several years ago in Australia to short work first (a couple of short cases to help with throughput & reduce the Q). My visual manamgement in my office organised my daily work into short & long, considering who is waiting for my work, so they can get on with theirs and then it is always tricky to organise it around all the meetings, workshops etc. Our lean team has tried to reduce WIP so we can progress what we have going a little faster. 

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Danielle McGuiness July 24, 2014
What a great example Denise! It makes so much sense- my guess is that dentists and othera in a similar profession do this too

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Mark Darvill July 31, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment
Danielle, I found the thoughts of Benson & Barry (Personal Kanban) useful in managing my workload more so than any other 'time management'/'personal efficiency' advice.  I am too often crippled by WIP and their advice on limiting it has made a big difference to my productivity during the parts of the day that I block out for uninterrupted time.  During my 'interruptable' time periods I now deal with emails so each block of work is only a couple of minutes and it doesn't take long to get back to the subject

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Lucy Wallace March 28, 2019

I love this.  I try to break up my day to avoid exhausting my brain on one task.  It is so hard to focus on so many different things you have to get done at once.  Focusing on one thing and completing it really makes me feel like I owned the day at least a little.  Then I feel confident I can take on the rest of my task throughout the day. 

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