Is Parallel Processing Good For You?

I always try to do too many things at once.

Even right now, I’m working a full-time job, and in the evenings I’m working on starting an educational technology business. Throughout the day, I’ll have thoughts racing through my head that I write down “for later.” I’ll have conversations with various people throughout the day. Amidst all that, I find time to go to the gym, exercise my dog, eat, do the general “life” maintenance tasks I need to take care of…Admittedly, it’s hard to stay organized.

Before my current line of work, I was an industrial engineer supporting multiple manufacturing lines. My goal was to continuously improve the systems I was working with, and one of the primary KPI’s (key performance indicators) we used to measure “success” was lead time, or the time between when an order was started and when it was delivered. Simple enough, right? Faster deliveries provide all sorts of benefits.

One of the techniques I learned for how to reduce lead time was to implement parallel processing. Instead of putting all the processes back-to-back, parallel processing allows for some of the processes to happen “in parallel,” or at the same time as other processes. This becomes possible when you’re employing automation or you have multiple resources (that is, there’s more than 1 person working on the larger problem at hand).

Parallel Turkeys

Image result for turkeys

Two turkeys walking in parallel

The example of parallel processing that comes to mind that I find the easiest to relate to is Thanksgiving Dinner. At the end of the day, your goal is to have a dinner for multiple people with a turkey, sides, dessert, and drinks all ready around the same time. Each item takes time to prepare, which is typically referred to as processing time. Here’s a simplified example of Thanksgiving items and how long they take to make:

Turkey takes 3 hours
Green bean casserole takes 30 minutes
Rolls take 15 minutes
Pumpkin pie takes 1 hour
Stuffing takes 45 minutes

So adding this all together, it takes about 5.5 hours of work to get Thanksgiving dinner ready. Wow! No wonder we always eat so late in the day…

That’s not really how it goes down, though. Are you telling me you sit there and watch the turkey the whole time it’s in the oven? Of course not! You watch football, begrudgingly talk with family members, or *gasp* work on some of the other food that needs to get done before dinner.

That’s parallel processing! If you were to take all the other items and complete them while the turkey is in the oven, that’s only 2.5 hours of work. So even though there’s 5.5 hours of work that need to be done, it could theoretically take only 3 hours to “make” Thanksgiving dinner (since the Turkey has to cook for that long), thanks to automation (the oven), and even some of that other stuff can be split between multiple people (other guests at dinner), freeing you up to do other stuff (like talk about politics with your extremely opinionated in-laws!).

Real Life Is No Walk in the Turkey Park

The second you start trying to implement parallel processing in real life, things get difficult. While it’s not impossible to automate tasks, it’s not always exactly realistic, or at least it isn’t easy. But it is getting easier! Tools like Mail Chimp and Edgar are allowing small businesses to automate things like email marketing and social media posts, and people with programming skills are able to automate an increasingly larger number of basic life tasks using tools like IFTTT and Amazon Alexa.

As far as “having other people do the work,” Tim Ferris advocates hiring a personal assistant in his New York Times best selling book 4 Hour Work Week. This, of course, costs money, and requires some level of trust to have someone do the work, but it’s certainly worth considering. If you are able to delegate tasks in a bite-size manner to other people (like giving a step-by-step recipe for green bean casserole), you may benefit tremendously from such an approach. If not, well, there’s no better time to learn than now! The second you start to feel overwhelm from doing “too much,” chances are–if you have the funds–it’s time to start hiring or contracting more people that you can trust and train to do the work. Websites like Upwork and Freelancer work well for this! I’ve used both.

So is Parallel Processing Good for You?

For you? Well, only you can answer that. For me, I know it’s the next step as I move into the business world. Later today I have meetings with 7 potential contractors for my new business. As we start to generate income, after they’re paid, I’ll continue to contract out work, giving up the short term dollar gain to allow myself to look at the big picture, scale, and continue to do what I love: building relationships with people, providing value, and planning for the next big thing. I’ll also employ automation as I start to get my email and social marketing grind on.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever employed parallel processing your personal or professional life and how you fared. I could talk about this for days…so let’s talk about it!

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