Posted On December 9, 2016 by Print This Post

Multi-tasking vs. Task-switching by Piper J. Drake

I am excited to welcome the fabulous PIPER J. DRAKE – this is her second post for RU!

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.

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How do you manage your things to do?

TRACY TAPPAN joins us on Monday, December 12

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Bio:

 

Piper J. Drake (or “PJ”) began her writing career as “PJ Schnyder” writing award-winning sci-fi & paranormal romance and steampunk. She has received the FF&P PRISM award for her work as well as the NJRW Golden Leaf award and Parsec award.
Now, Piper writes romantic suspense, incorporating her interests in mixed martial arts and the military into her writing.
Play Find the Piper around the Internet for insight into her frequent travels and inspirations for her stories.

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.

ABSOLUTE TRUST
 

LOVE IS THE GREATEST RISK OF ALL
After multiple tours of duty, Brandon Forte returns to his hometown on a personal mission: to open a facility for military working dogs like Haydn, a German Shepherd Dog who’s seen his share of combat and loss. It also brings him back to Sophie Kim, a beacon of light in his life . . . and the one woman he can’t have. But Forte’s success means he’s made enemies in high places. Enemies who are now after Sophie . . .

When Forte enlisted and left without saying goodbye, Sophie did her best to move on. But with her first love back in town, looking sexier than ever, she’s constantly reminded of what they could have had. Then after he risks himself for her, Sophie realizes she’ll have to put her life in the hands of the man who broke her heart, knowing the danger -and the sparks between them- could consume them both.

What People Are Saying About ABSOLUTE TRUST:

With an action-filled plot riddled with suspense and tension, Drake’s latest in her True Heroes series is the best one yet.  Steady pacing, engaging storytelling and genuine, vulnerable characters (coupled with the endearing heroic dogs that protect and love them) make this romance shine.
~ RT Book Reviews

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Multi-Tasking & Time Management

Discussion

5 Responses to “Multi-tasking vs. Task-switching by Piper J. Drake”

  1. Thanks so much for this thought-provoking post, PJ/Piper! I like your idea of breaking tasks into sub-tasks, since it means more things to cross off the list.

    Laundry isn’t difficult but it seems to be an endless task. I can’t figure out why folding and putting away laundry takes twice as much time and effort as sorting, washing and drying it!

    I also like your timed sprints. The times I participated in NaNoWriMo, I usually accomplished more in a half hour sprint than an hour of dedicated writing.

    This time of year my sub-tasks include buying stamps, addressing envelopes and writing on Christmas cards. I’ve got most of my shopping done but now comes the tricky part – sorting and wrapping it, not to mention hiding the wrapped gifts!

    I miss seeing you at Lori Foster – I haven’t made it down there since I moved to Chicago. Let me know if you ever come up this way!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 9, 2016, 8:51 am
  2. YEP — I also use the Management by Objectives methods.

    if you have a list of things to do – what are the top three?

    Those are the ONLY ones you do – alternate – focused sessions, whatever

    If something arrises and interrupts – it replaces one of the three

    THREE tasks.

    This works. There are classes on this. I used this most of my career (like as soon as I stumbled over that class!) I brought the instructor into an engineering dept I was driving. IT WORKS. Sometimes we just get overloaded and thing we must do everything. No. Permanent press and frozen dinners help. (I raised 2 boys, worked full time and was a Boy Scout leader – assistant scout master and high adventure leader once women were “Allowed” to do that. Make a list – pick the TOP THREE. Task switch. Done.

    Posted by Donnamaie White | December 9, 2016, 10:23 am
  3. I don’t understand how anyone can multitask unless it’s something like driving a car and talking to the person in the passenger’s seat. I can’t imagine anyone being able to cut paper and tape it into place simultaneously. Doing more that one activity with the same limbs or sense can’t be done…can it?

    On Monday mornings, I gather the laundry and take it to the laundry room where I separate it according to color and/or durability. I start a load in the washer and sit myself down to write about 20 minutes. I change loads around. I go back to my desk and write for about an hour. I change loads of laundry again. When all the laundry is done, I fold or hang up the clothes. This takes about an hour. When done, I go back to my writing.

    Some tasks you just can’t complete all at once. Yes, that’s where task-switching comes it.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | December 9, 2016, 12:06 pm
  4. When I first read this post, I was like, “Okay, I know about multi-tasking and I know it’s not a personal strength. (Probably the opposite.)” But I wasn’t clear on how task-switching works. Now I get it. I get it and I LIKE IT! 🙂

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 9, 2016, 12:25 pm

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