Round Robin Scheduling

September 4, 2014 - Uncategorized

I often read articles and blogs on improving ones focus and efficiency at managing tasks for example, Scott Hanselmann has many an interesting post on organising your inbox. I’ve attempted a few of these recently and my work inbox is looking a lot healthier (though there’s still much room for improvement).

But still the problem of keeping track of and organising tasks bugs me. I’ve tried keeping all my tasks on Trello, which works great – if you have the commitment to keeping it up to date. I’ve found the easiest way of keeping track of tasks however is just writing a list of things to do in a note book. Terribly old fashioned I know.

Even with my super high tech note book, I was still having trouble getting through tasks. I was spending days on big important tasks while small slightly less important tasks were getting eclipsed.

I was reading up on some basics of computing and came across the Wikipedia article on how processors organise tasks. It’s called Round Robin Scheduling. Basically the premise is that computation operations come to the process in order, joining the end of a queue, and the processor spends a set amount of time on that task. If the processor finishes the task in the allotted time – great – it moves on to the next task. However, if it doesn’t finish the task in the allotted time, it puts it on hold, putting it at the end of the queue and starts the next task.

I was looking at my list of tasks at work and thinking, “I’m never going to get to these small tasks further down my list – I’m spending too much time on these big tasks at the top”. So I figured if it works for computers it may work for humans.

I’ve tried the Pomodoro Technique before and it works really well, but it takes a lot of dedication, preparation and micromanagement so I don’t really have the commitment for it. Breaking your day into half hour chunks is a bit of a challenge. So with my Round Robin Technique I decided my unit of time would be four hours – half a day.
I’ve tried this for a week: starting a task, spending half a day on it, moving to the next task, rinse and repeat; and I’ve found it works a treat. I often get tasks asked of me and previously when asked when I would get a chance to look at them I’d unusefully shrugged and pointed to my long list of tasks which this new one fell to the bottom of. Now I can just count down my list, divide by two, and honestly say how many days it will be when it will be looked at. My colleagues are happy because they know where they’re at, I’m happy because dedicating half a day at a time to something before moving on to something completely different ensures that everything is fresh and that I don’t get bored!

One disadvantage though is that coming back to a task that you’ve only half finished can take a bit of time to get back into the swing of it.

I’m going to keep using this technique and maybe even combine it with a Pomodoro-like time management. Let’s see how it goes!