If you have ever tried to move something that was too heavy to pick up, you know that it is usually easier to pull the object then try to push it. The same is true with most processes.
In any kind of process, there are two ways to organize work at a given step. One is called a push method and the other is called the pull method. They push method when you get work that you cannot schedule, like a phone call, a customer walking into your store, anything that you do not have control over. The work just happens when it happens. The pull method, on the other hand, means you organize your own work. Going to your inbox in your e-mail, voice mail, any kind of work queue that you have set up.
For most processes the pull method is going to be much more efficient than a push. For example in an emergency room, customer show up. Patients arrive in no particular order as they need assistance. This is a pure push model. But, the triage nurse sorts through all the patients and their issues, just like you do with your e-mail. She sets the order that patients that now can be taken by the emergency room staff. Staff can then use a pull method to insure that they take the most critical cases first in order to optimize care for everybody. There will be exceptions, because a patient in critical condition can arrive at any time, but the more efficiently they can deal with other patients, the more capacity they have for those extreme emergency cases.
The same is true for most other roles. If an employee or department is allowed to organize their work and only move on to the next task when the current task is complete, they will be far more efficient than if they are constantly having to interrupt tasks they are working on and have multiple open tasks. Research has shown that once a person abandons a task and returns to its it takes up to a minute just to figure out where they were in that task and re-engage their mind. This is true of switching attention between two different patients, working on two different documents at the same time, or solving advance physics problems.
When you are looking to increase performance in an area that has multiple demands on it, look for a person or equipment that is being forced to constantly switch between tasks. Look to see if there are ways that the workflow at that location, can be modified to optimize it for that person. Sometimes you cannot. If you in direct customer service, the job is mostly push. You have to get more creative there. And be wary of people will often claim they can multitask well. The human brain cannot think about two different things at the same time. People often take pride in how many things they can work on simultaneously, but usually either quality or quantity of the product suffers. Part of your job might be convincing them that there is a better way.
Feel free to exercise the pull methods and read other entries in my blog!