Monday, June 15, 2009

Adventures in Doing Too Many Things at Once

At work, I have eight regular projects that I work on. I have two of my own research projects, which, theoretically, account for half my time. Then, I have five projects with supercomputer time allocated to them, whom I help as needed. Finally, I have the software infrastructure management project, which eats up a lot more time than I would prefer.

In addition, I have a student working with me for the summer, which is wonderful, but also quite time consuming. I met my student at a conference earlier this year, and when I told her about the opportunities for summer internships at my place of work, she signed right up. She's working with me on our software management, helping us to figure out how to manage our libraries better. She's a smart woman and I'm excited about her working with me.

Tomorrow and the next day is the annual supercomputing course. A colleague of mine is teaching the first day (although I'm assisting with the hands-on activities), in which students will become accustomed to the unix environment and write a serial program. I am teaching the second day (and my colleague is assisting me with the hands-on portion), in which students will learn about MPI and OpenMP, and write a parallel program based on the serial program they wrote the day before. I love teaching this course, but again, it takes time.

Then, we are facing a really big review, which means there's extra work on top of all the regular work we're doing. Everyone is scared to death, which is a good thing in my opinion, because it means we're going to take the review very seriously. But, again, it takes time away from doing what I would rather be doing.

Something I've found is that the more tasks that I have to do, the less efficient I become and the less I end up doing. I think this is because when you have this many different things to do, you can't keep it all in your head. It's kind of like thrashing in computer science: more and more resources are consumed to do less and less work. Basically, when you go from task A to task B, you have to swap out some of your memory. If you have only a couple of tasks, then it's not so bad, because maybe you can even store all the necessary data in your memory, or just swap out a little here and there when you change tasks. But if you have 11 projects, like I do, it becomes increasingly difficult, because you have too many running processes, and you spend more time swapping between them than you spend actually doing anything. I get to the point where I can't even remember what I was doing and end up repeating tasks, or even worse, sitting there blankly while I try to remember what the heck was going on.


Laura said...

That happens to me, too! Doing too many things and being inefficient, I mean. But it's also really hard to let myself only do one thing. Or (heaven forbid!) nothing!

But that's my own self-imposed chaos. Yours isn't in your control, is it? I'm sorry -- it sounds really hard. Good luck getting through it!

ScienceGirl said...

I call it thrashing also ;) Unfortunately, I don't know a good way of handling having too many projects at once other than "dumping" all the stuff that's in my head into a planner, and then forcing myself to work on one project at a time; I am in real trouble when I can't figure out which of the projects I should work on first. How do you deal?