There always seems to be so much to be done, especially in the holiday season headed toward the end of the year. This is when people roll up their sleeves and try multi-tasking to get more done in the same amount of time. Seems like a good idea. And yet, is multi-tasking working?
Why it’s not actually good to be a multi-tasker
Completing a task requires attention. Doing it well requires even more mental focus and effort. Trying to do multiple things at the same time splits those mental resources. And if you’re trying to create something, it becomes even harder.
You’re more prone to make mistakes. You sit and stare at the task trying to remember what you were supposed to do or what you’d planned to do for this task and can’t quite recall. If you’re writing, you may not be able to get the words to flow. Trying to juggle the multiple tasks slows you down. Completing the To Do list takes longer with the act of juggling than if you specifically focused on doing things one at a time.
Trying to do all those tasks simultaneously could be detrimental for something that requires a high level of concentration and deep creativity, like writing. Those tasks become obstacles to actually getting to writing time. When it’s time to write, the mental and creative wells are tapped dry.
It’s stressful. Some people thrive under that kind of stress. Others don’t.
The difference between multi-tasking and task-switching
As I manage a demanding day job, 85% travel, and a writing career, people often commend me for my ability to multi-task. The truth is, I’m not. I am task-switching.
The way I think of it, it’s about mental state. When I look at my To Do list, I’m not thinking of the tasks as things I’m doing in parallel. I don’t start them at the same time or try to do them together. Instead, I’ve organized my To Do list to a level of granularity that I can complete short, finite tasks and move on to the next without leaving the previous hanging undone.
If it’s a complex task with associated waiting times like cooking or laundry, I break it down into smaller subtasks where I can turn to something else in the wait time. I complete a subtask, then switch immediately to another task with minimal transition.
For example, maybe on a Saturday morning I’ve got laundry, cooking, and writing to do. To me, they are not three tasks I’m doing throughout the morning. Instead, it looks more like this:
- I move a load of laundry to the dryer. A task by itself.
- I load and start a batch of laundry in the washer. A task by itself.
- I hang laundry that needs to be line dried. A task by itself.
- I prep and put a pan of lasagna in the oven.
- I do a timed writing sprint.
- I come back to the laundry.
- I do another timed writing sprint.
- When the timer goes off, I check my lasagna.
Minimizing the transition time is another key to switching from task to task effectively. I’m not taking a break or puttering or otherwise slowing down my productivity. I don’t lose my momentum allowing myself to be distracted, then burn precious time staring at my monitor wondering what it was I was just about to do. Instead, I’ve usually got a planned power hour in which everything is fresh in my head or handily captured in a list. I line those tasks up and get them done, one at a time in quick succession.
Task-switching and managing the transition from task to task is extremely effective for me. It makes a day full of things to do productive. Then I can take a break and really relax too, without worrying about any loose, unfinished things haunting me.
How do you manage your things to do?
TRACY TAPPAN joins us on Monday, December 12
For more on multi-tasking and task-switching, check out Piper’s podcast episode “EMEPiper Ep 7: I’m Not Actually a Multitasker” (http://piperjdrake.com/2016/11/emepiper-ep-7-im-not-actually-a-multitasker/)
Every Minute, Everywhere: Time Management for Authors by Piper J. Drake is available on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/every-minute-everywhere-time/id1178174806), via RSS Feed (http://emepiper.libsyn.com/rss), on Piper’s website (http://piperjdrake.com/category/podcast/), or wherever you get your podcasts.
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