Series on Multi-tasking: Doing it the CEO way

Your inbox has more email than a Nigerian spam ring. Your deadlines are stacking up like a rush hour car wreck. You have more meetings than a track team. In other words, you’re really behind on your work. Sure, everyone’s productivity takes a hit now and then, but tech CEOs aren’t just anybodies. They can’t afford pedestrian productivity problems that set their businesses back. Read on to see how some of the world’s busiest tech executives multitask, like a boss.

Elon Musk: Master Your Email – When Elon Musk isn’t revolutionizing e-commerce, building electric cars, or trying to make self-landing reusable rockets, there’s one sure-fire place you can find the Tesla and SpaceX CEO: on email. “I do a lot of email—very good at email. That’s my core competency,” joked Musk at a 2013 conference. But there’s a lot of truth to Musk’s aside, considering the high amount of delegation the multi-company CEO must administer. According to Musk, staying on top of his inbox even requires pecking out replies during family time, something we’re probably all guilty of. Still, it’s not like his email account is getting pummeled with pitches from everyone under the sun. His inbox is insulated from people looking to go to Mars or even get off the Tesla Model S waitlist. That’s good, because the man has work to do.

Jack Dorsey: Give Your Days a Theme – Now the CEO of both Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey recently made news for permanently returning to the social network that he helped launch. But running one high-powered technology company can be hard enough, so how will he juggle two? Dorsey has done it before, and he credited organizing his week into “themed days” as part of his success. For instance, on Mondays, Dorsey focuses on management, he revealed while speaking at a 2011 conference. So that meant he would take in a directional meeting at Square and an operations committee at Twitter. Tuesdays are for products—nowadays he might be meeting about Twitter’s new Moments feature and Square’s NFC reader. Wednesdays are for marketing and growth, and so on. And believe it or not, he takes the weekend off—well, sort of. “Sunday is reflection, feedback, and strategy,” he said.

Jeff Bezos: Work Backwards – After buying The Washington Post, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos gave his new employees a great peek inside the mind of one of America’s most daring entrepreneurs. From the “everything store” to the Kindle to the new Echo voice assistant, Bezos has used one simple productivity trick to introduce some of the world’s most innovative products: he starts with his goals and works backwards. Of course, reverse engineering is nothing new — curious children have been rewiring gadgets since the early 20th century. But starting with a dream and walking backwards towards the present day requires dedication and planning.

Mark Zuckerberg: Personal Goals Create Professional Structure – The eccentricities of Facebook’s founder have been well-documented—he often wears the same style gray t-shirt every day, dons his signature hoodie in business meetings, so on and so forth. But there is a method behind his madness, and that’s a relentless pursuit of simplicity to help add structure to a chaotic professional world. Another of Zuckerberg’s quirks are his annual challenges. In 2010, he sought to learn Mandarin. In 2011, he vowed to only eat meat that he slaughtered himself.. These efforts require discipline, the kind of self-regulation that often demands that you say no (or “not now”) to work, so that you can improve yourself personally. And the hope is those refinements will spill over into your professional life.

Source: time.com

Series on Multi-tasking: Being focused

What did Steve Jobs, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the century, think about Multitasking? Regardless of how you feel about Apple, Steve Jobs was an incredibly prolific CEO who was more than just the face of the company. Before his death in 2011, he managed to change the face of Apple and provide a unique workplace lauded for its productivity.

Jobs was certainly a complicated person and for every genius idea he had plenty of bad ones. His management style was confrontational, he was rude, and his authoritarian outlook on Apple’s openness is well known. In short, he was a jerk who was tough to work with. Still, he managed to change the face of a company and push for innovation in the marketplace. He helped shape Pixar in the ’90s and brought the failing Apple corporation back to life when he returned in 1997.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he walked into a company struggling to sell its wide variety of products. One of Jobs’ first moves as the new CEO was to reduce the number of products sold by Apple. Jobs condensed Apple’s offerings and made it easy to pick a Mac. From there, it branched out to introduce the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but has always kept their main product line limited to just a few different choices.

Jobs didn’t just do this with Apple. He’d pass along the advice to just about anyone who asked. He told Nike to cut the crappy stuff as well:”Do you have any advice?” Parker asked Jobs. “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle. But Jobs didn’t laugh. He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker. “We had to edit.”

Jobs’ point here can easily be applied to everyday life. If you have too much going on, start saying no more often. Get rid of any activities that aren’t actually helping you in your career and life. If you have too much going on, focus in on what matters.

Of course, focusing on what matters is easier said than done. Jobs had a system for making sure people could do their best work by ensuring that everyone was working on what they should be and nothing else. During meetings Jobs would assign tasks and a person responsible for them. The hope was that with proper delegation, everyone would work on what they’re supposed to and not have to worry about anything else. Wired sums it up:There’s no excuse for employees to have any confusion after a meeting. An effective Apple meeting will include an “action list,” and next to each action item is a “DRI” — a directly responsible individual who must ensure the task is accomplished.

For the rest of us, the lesson here is about delegation. In order to do your best work, you need to stop multitasking and concentrate on one task at a time. The more things you can delegate, the more time you have to work on what matters.

Source: lifehacker.com

Series on Multi-tasking: Effects on Productivity

So we have read that multi-tasking might not be the most optimal way to function however, are there are any numbers which can peg the harmful effects of the same? Realization, the leading provider of Flow-based Planning and Execution solutions that help organizations complete projects 20 to 50 percent faster, has released a report, “The Effects of Multitasking on Organizations” which reveals that organizational multitasking, a problem that typically goes unnoticed within large companies, annually costs the global economy more than $450 billion in lost productivity.

Job seekers around the world still tout their ability to multitask as a desirable skill, and in many organizations, multitasking is worn as a badge of honor; however, research consistently shows that people who attempt to multitask suffer a wide array of negative effects, from wasting 40 percent of their productive time switching tasks to experiencing a heightened susceptibility to distraction.

The new report from Realization examines a problem that previous researchers have paid little attention to: the effects of multitasking at the organizational level. Just as individual multitasking occurs when a person’s time is split between too many tasks, organizational multitasking occurs when a group is focused on too many things and its overall capacity is adversely affected. The end results are delays and interruptions, reduced quality and rework, peaks and valleys in workflow, and lack of proper preparation before tasks and projects.

To examine the effects of organizational multitasking more rigorously, Realization, a provider of Flow-based Planning and Execution systems for engineering and projects, studied 45 organizations with between 1,000 and 50,000 employees with an average annual revenue of more than $1 billion from a diverse range of industries – including automotive, aerospace and defense, aviation, energy, semiconductors, software and pharmaceuticals – that consciously implemented measures to reduce multitasking in their organizations.

The results speak for themselves. The organizations were much more productive. The mean increase in throughput was 59.8 percent, while the median increase was 38.2 percent. In addition, organizations finished projects faster after organizational multitasking had been reduced. The mean cycle-time reduction was 35.5 percent, while the median cycle-time reduction was 31 percent.

“Our study clearly demonstrates the massive impact that organizational multitasking is having in many different industries, and the real tragedy is that most of the organizations that suffer from it don’t even realize that it’s happening,” said Sanjeev Gupta, CEO of Realization. “Everyone appears to be working very hard, but in fact, they are spending a lot of their time simply spinning their wheels, switching from task to task, without ever having the time to finish something before another ‘urgent’ item is put on their plate. Organizational multitasking can be addressed, but first, managers have to recognize the problem.”

Source: prnewswire.com

Series on Multi-tasking: Supertaskers

So most of us by now agree that multi-tasking is not always the most efficient way to get work done. However, scientific research has proved that there does exist a small number of supertaskers whose ability to multitask improves each time newer tasks are added to their existing list. They comprise a minuscule 2% of the population.

In 2012, David Strayer found himself in a research lab, on the outskirts of London, observing something he hadn’t thought possible: extraordinary multitasking. For his entire career, Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, had been studying attention—how it works and how it doesn’t. Methods had come and gone, theories had replaced theories, but one constant remained: humans couldn’t multitask. Each time someone tried to focus on more than one thing at a time, performance suffered. Most recently, Strayer had been focussing on people who drive while on the phone. Over the course of a decade, he and his colleagues had demonstrated that drivers using cell phones—even hands-free devices—were at just as high a risk of accidents as intoxicated ones. Reaction time slowed, attention decreased to the point where they’d miss more than half the things they’d otherwise see—a billboard or a child by the road, it mattered not.

Outside the lab, too, the multitasking deficit held steady. When Strayer and his colleagues observed fifty-six thousand drivers approaching an intersection, they found that those on their cell phones were more than twice as likely to fail to heed the stop signs. In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated that twenty-eight per cent of all deaths and accidents on highways were the result of drivers on their phones.

What, then, was going on here in the London lab? The woman he was looking at—let’s call her Cassie—was an exception to what twenty-five years of research had taught him. As she took on more and more tasks, she didn’t get worse. She got better. There she was, driving, doing complex math, responding to barking prompts through a cell phone, and she wasn’t breaking a sweat. She was, in other words, what Strayer would ultimately decide to call a supertasker.

About five years ago, Strayer recalls, he and his colleagues were sorting through some data, and noticed an anomaly: a participant whose score wasn’t deteriorating with the addition of multiple tasks. “We thought, That can’t be,” he said. “So we spent about a month trying to see an error.” The data looked solid, though, and so Strayer and his colleagues decided to push farther. That’s what he was doing in London: examining individuals who seemed to be the exception to the multitasking rule.

A thousand people from all over the U.K. had taken a multitasking test. Most had fared poorly, as expected. Cassie in particular was the best multitasker he had ever seen. “It’s a really, really hard test,” Strayer recalls. “Some people come out woozy—I have a headache, that really kind of hurts, that sort of thing. But she solved everything. She flew through it like a hot knife through butter.” In her pre-test, Cassie had made only a single math error (even supertaskers usually make more mistakes); when she started to multitask, even that one error went away. “She made zero mistakes,” Strayer says. “And she did even better when she was driving.”

Strayer believes that there is a tiny but persistent subset of the population—about two per cent—whose performance does not deteriorate, and can even improve, when multiple demands are placed on their attention. By 2012, after Cassie and her other supertasking U.K. colleague had been tested, Strayer’s team had identified nineteen supertaskers in a sample of seven hundred.

Source: newyorker.com

Series on Multi-tasking: Is it needed for success?

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? Read on…

The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch. Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multi-tasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child. So the next time you’re writing your boss an email during a meeting, remember that your cognitive capacity is being diminished to the point that you might as well let an 8-year-old write it for you.

It was long believed that cognitive impairment from multitasking was temporary, but new research suggests otherwise. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control. While more research is needed to determine if multitasking is physically damaging the brain (versus existing brain damage that predisposes people to multitask), it’s clear that multitasking has negative effects.

If you’re prone to multitasking, this is not a habit you’ll want to indulge—it clearly slows you down and decreases the quality of your work. Even if it doesn’t cause brain damage, allowing yourself to multitask will fuel any existing difficulties you have with concentration, organization, and attention to detail. Multitasking in meetings and other social settings indicates low Self and Social Awareness, two emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that are critical to success at work. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers have high EQs.

Source: talentsmart.com

Series on Multi-tasking: Is it all bad?

Not too long ago, multitasking was viewed as a coveted skill among workers. There was a belief that, like computers, employees that could multitask could get more things done in a lesser amount of time. However, what was once viewed as a benefit to workers is now widely seen as harmful to productivity by most experts on the subject.

Recent studies have found that multitasking can negatively affect a worker’s efficiency in performing an assignment. When switching between multiple projects, participants in these studies found it hard to switch mindsets, as each individual project required a different focus area. Participants instead had to spend time readjusting their focus before they could continue on with the new task, or if they could not adjust their mindset their performance in that area would suffer.

The other potentially career-damaging aspect of multitasking is the inability to retain information. According to a study by Stanford University in 2009, workers that “are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention” and are less likely to recall that information soon after.

Generally speaking, the consensus is that multitasking stretches our brain just a little too much in opposing directions. To combat this, workers can find no more than two projects that require a specific mindset to accomplish the tasks at hand. If these employees find that they can maintain focus equally on both projects, they may find that this finely-focused form of dual tasking works perfect for their daily productivity and keeps them interested in the work at hand. This theory was tested by French scientist, Etienne Koechlin, in Scientific American. The results proved that if two tasks were performed at the same time – as long as they interacted with the same ‘side’ of the brain – productivity and motivation were increased among test subjects.

Multitasking can help in other ways too. A constant concern for companies in the modern age is employee dissatisfaction. Ohio University’s Master’s in Business Administration discusses the effect this can have on a company, and the importance of keeping employees engaged, motivated, and productive. Employees that are unhappy or don’t feel ‘fully engaged’ at work can end up causing companies billions of dollars in stolen property, mediocre work, and frequent sick days.

To combat this, some suggest to layer stressful or unsatisfying tasks with more rewarding ones. As one group of researchers found out from a study with students at Ohio State University, students that watched television while studying were actually more productive and happier or “emotionally satisfied.” Although that same scenario of watching television while working can’t be played out in most offices, similar ideas can be applied.

Managers can encourage employees to listen to music, go for a walk while checking emails, or let them spend time at home with their pets and families while they work remotely (not all working parents will find this relaxing, though).

In the end, multitasking can be damaging to productivity, but managers should not discount it completely. Instead, let workers decide for themselves what keeps them engaged at the job and what they feel is the most productive approach for multitasking. Be sure to reiterate the damages of overloading on tasks, but also remember the benefits of dual tasking.

It’s an equation for success: employee engagement + focus = a productive workflow; and happy employees make organizations profitable.

Source: blog.readytomanage.com

Series on Multi-tasking – Negative outcomes

A 56-year-old man with dementia was admitted to a medical center. His feeding tube needed to be removed from his stomach. It’s a common enough procedure that went fine. But then things went terribly wrong. The culprit: a smartphone. That’s the harrowing conclusion of a recent case study published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a federal agency, and written by the chief information officer at Harvard Medical School. It’s a nearly deadly example of “distracted doctoring”.

Here, in brief, is a tale of medical multitasking gone wrong:Before the feeding-tube procedure, the doctors increased the patient’s dose of anticoagulation medicine to reduce his risk of stroke. After the procedure, the doctors held a meeting about the case. They decided the patient needed an echocardiogram, a heart image, to determine whether to continue the blood-thinning medication.

During the meeting, the attending doctor instructed the medical resident (a junior doctor) to order the anti-coagulation treatment temporarily stopped. The resident began to enter that order into her phone using a computerized doctor order entry system. These are increasingly common systems that can be used on phones or tablets.

Before the resident could finish the order, her phone beeped with an incoming text. It was from a friend. She got lost in the text and failed to finish the order. The patient continued to get the blood thinner at the elevated dose he was getting before the feeding-tube procedure.

On the patient’s fourth day in the hospital, his heart raced and he was gulping for air. He was rushed into emergency open-heart surgery. Blood had filled the sack around the heart. He’d received too much blood thinner, but he survived.

Dr. John Halamka, who wrote the anonymous case study (name of hospital, patient and doctors withheld), writes that hospitals have to figure a way to balance the benefits of interactive technology with the risks of distraction.“Providers should be ensuring that routine personal issues/interruptions do not impact the delivery of quality care,” he writes.

Source: nytimes.com

Series on Multi-tasking: Monochronic vs. Polychronic

In psychology the monochronic assumption is the idea that it’s always better to complete one task before you start on the next. In research conducted over several decades, Allen Bluedorn has found that, unsurprisingly, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people favour monochronicity and feel happier completing one task before they start the next. Others are polychronic and perform better when they are doing lots of things at once, and can excel in jobs which require them to do just that.

The research on compulsory multi-tasking is at first sight discouraging. Multi-tasking has a bad name. The problem is something known as attention residue. Experiments have demonstrated that when you switch your attention from one task to another, a bit of your mind is still focused on the previous task. Each time you switch back again you have to remind yourself about what it was you were doing, while dealing simultaneously with the slight distraction from the other task. This can increase your cognitive load.

Many studies over the years have found that in general people are slower and less accurate when they do two tasks at once. This might suggest that the answer is to complete every task one at a time, but this isn’t always the case.

Multi-tasking is hardest when the tasks are similar to each other, but a bit easier if they are different. So while chatting on the phone and writing an email is difficult, because they involve similar thinking processes in order to generate meaningful sentences, talking while playing the piano isn’t as hard.

If the tasks are different enough then multi-tasking can even improve your performance. A study conducted in 2015 at the University of Florida surprised even its authors. People were asked to sit on exercise bikes and to cycle for two minutes at a speed they found comfortable. Later they cycled again, this time with a screen in front of them which presented them with 12 different types of cognitive tests, some of them quite hard.

In the easy tests they had to say the word “go” whenever they saw a blue star on the screen; in the harder tasks they had to memorize long lists of numbers and then recite them in reverse order. They completed similar cognitive tests while sitting on a chair in a room and the researchers compared the results.

When people were sitting on an exercise bike they pedaled 25% faster when given mental problems to solve simultaneously, without doing any worse on the problems. This is a case where distraction seems to be useful. The authors speculate that anticipation of the tasks might have increased arousal in the brain, which also made the people more efficient at cycling.

So multi-tasking may have its downsides, but it isn’t always bad. There are certain circumstances under which we are better at multi-tasking – when we feel relaxed and when we’ve been doing a mentally creative exercise which encourages us to think broadly. (In this study it involved thinking of as many uses as possible for a paper clip, a newspaper, some wool and some upholstery foam.) After this kind of activity people became better at multi-tasking. When the experimenters deliberately made them feel stressed, they were worse at it.

Source: www.bbc.com

Series on Multi-tasking: Benjamin Franklin

Let us look at a brief look at the life of Benjamin Franklin. One of the greatest multi-taskers in modern history. His life is proof that multitasking might not be as bad as people say and might even lead to greatness and a legacy that lives on for centuries.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a renowned polymath and a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions. He facilitated many civic organizations, including Philadelphia’s fire department and the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution.

Franklin earned the title of “The First American” for his early and indefatigable campaigning for colonial unity, initially as an author and spokesman in London for several colonies. As the first United States Ambassador to France, he exemplified the emerging American nation. Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. In the words of historian Henry Steele Commager, “In a Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat.”

To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin “the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.” Franklin became a successful newspaper editor and printer in Philadelphia, the leading city in the colonies, publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette at the age of 23. He became wealthy publishing this and Poor Richard’s Almanack, which he authored under the pseudonym “Richard Saunders”. After 1767, he was associated with the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a newspaper that was known for its revolutionary sentiments and criticisms of the British policies.

He pioneered and was first president of The Academy and College of Philadelphia which opened in 1751 and later became the University of Pennsylvania. He organized and was the first secretary of the American Philosophical Society and was elected president in 1769. Franklin became a national hero in America as an agent for several colonies when he spearheaded an effort in London to have the Parliament of Great Britain repeal the unpopular Stamp Act. An accomplished diplomat, he was widely admired among the French as American minister to Paris and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. His efforts proved vital for the American Revolution in securing shipments of crucial munitions from France.

He was promoted to deputy postmaster-general for the British colonies in 1753, having been Philadelphia postmaster for many years, and this enabled him to set up the first national communications network. During the Revolution, he became the first US Postmaster General. He was active in community affairs and colonial and state politics, as well as national and international affairs. From 1785 to 1788, he served as governor of Pennsylvania. He initially owned and dealt in slaves but, by the 1750s, he argued against slavery from an economic perspective and became one of the most prominent abolitionists.

His colorful life and legacy of scientific and political achievement, and his status as one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers have seen Franklin honoured more than two centuries after his death on coinage and the $100 bill, warships, and the names of many towns, counties, educational institutions, and corporations, as well as countless cultural references.

Source: Wikipedia.org

Series on Multi-tasking: Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci is arguably history’s greatest multi-tasker. Possessor of a curious mind and keen intellect, Da Vinci studied the laws of science and nature, which greatly informed his work as a painter, sculptor, architect, inventor, military engineer and draftsman.

Young Leonardo received little formal education beyond basic reading, writing and mathematics instruction, but his artistic talents were evident from an early age. Around the age of 14, da Vinci began a lengthy apprenticeship with the noted artist Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence. He learned a wide breadth of technical skills including metalworking, leather arts, carpentry, drawing, painting and sculpting. It is thought that Verrocchio was so humbled by the superior talent of his pupil that he never picked up a paintbrush again.

In 1482, Florentine ruler Lorenzo de’ Medici commissioned Da Vinci to create a silver lyre and bring it as a peace gesture to Ludovico Sforza, who ruled Milan as its regent. After doing so, Da Vinci lobbied Ludovico for a job and sent the future Duke of Milan a letter that barely mentioned his considerable talents as an artist and instead touted his more marketable skills as a military engineer. Using his inventive mind, Da Vinci sketched war machines such as a war chariot with scythe blades mounted on the sides, an armored tank propelled by two men cranking a shaft and even an enormous crossbow that required a small army of men to operate. The letter worked, and Ludovico brought Da Vinci to Milan for a tenure that would last 17 years.

Da Vinci began to seriously study anatomy and dissect human and animal bodies during the 1480s. His drawings of a fetus in utero, the heart and vascular system, sex organs and other bone and muscular structures are some of the first on human record. In addition to his anatomical investigations, Da Vinci studied botany, geology, zoology, hydraulics, aeronautics and physics. He filled dozens of notebooks with finely drawn illustrations and scientific observations. A man ahead of his time, da Vinci appeared to prophesize the future with his sketches of machines resembling a bicycle, helicopter and a flying machine based on the physiology of a bat.

Around 1495, Ludovico commissioned Da Vinci to paint “The Last Supper” on the back wall of the dining hall inside the monastery of Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie. The masterpiece, which took approximately three years to complete, captures the drama of the moment when Jesus informs the Twelve Apostles gathered for Passover dinner that one of them would soon betray him.

After brief stays in Mantua and Venice, Da Vinci returned to Florence. In 1502 and 1503, he briefly worked as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia, the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI and commander of the papal army. He traveled outside of Florence to survey military construction projects and sketch city plans and topographical maps. He designed plans to divert the Arno River away from rival Pisa in order to deny its wartime enemy access to the sea.

Da Vinci started working in 1503 on what would become his most well known painting—and arguably the most famous painting in the world—the “Mona Lisa.” The privately commissioned work is characterized by the enigmatic smile of the woman in the half-portrait.

Da Vinci moved to Rome in 1513. Giuliano de’ Medici, brother of newly installed Pope Leo X and son of his former patron, gave Da Vinci a monthly stipend along with a suite of rooms at his residence inside the Vatican. His new patron, however, also gave Da Vinci little work. Lacking large commissions, he devoted most of his time in Rome to mathematical studies and scientific exploration.

After being present at a 1515 meeting between France’s King Francis I and Pope Leo X in Bologna, the new French monarch offered Da Vinci the title “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King.” Da Vinci did little painting during his time in France. One of his last commissioned works was a mechanical lion that could walk and open its chest to reveal a bouquet of lilies. He continued work on his scientific studies until his death at the age of 67 on May 2, 1519.