Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Multitasking Myth - a Follow On

After my last blog entry I received an email from a friend which said that she agreed there was no place for multitasking when in the work place but for her, when she was at home and doing personal projects, multitasking was actually the best way for her to get things done. But what she described as multitasking was more sequential tasking and this was when I realised I had made an error in my last entry. I didn’t actually define what I meant by multitasking. 
In the context of my previous entry, multitasking is actively doing two things at the same time. For example, talking on the phone while checking your emails. Talking to a co-worker while working on a spreadsheet. Or when you’re at home, vacuuming while reading a book. Cooking while sending a text message. 
Some things don’t necessarily fall into this definition of multitasking when you do them at the same time. For example, as I write this entry I’m listening to music - but that’s because music helps inspire and motivate me. I get energy from it so listening to music is actually part of the task at hand. It supplements it. I know of many people who are more productive if they have the television on in the background. Same sort of thing. They aren’t distracted by the screen and they can sit down and work on their taxes and get them done easily.
Personally I find the television to be a huge distraction so for me, watching TV and doing anything else, would definitely be multitasking because TV pulls too much of my attention. In the same way I know some people couldn’t possibly fathom listening to music while writing as they require absolute silence. 
But the point is that we shouldn’t do two things that require total focus at the same time. 
So what isn’t multitasking? 

Say you get home and you have a giant list of things to get done. You’ve got to get some laundry done and it’s garbage collection day tomorrow so you’ll need to empty all the waste baskets in the house. You also need to get dinner on and at some point you wanted to sit down to that creative project you’ve been working on. 

There is enough time in the evening to do everything and it doesn’t all have to be done at once. Nor do you have to do each thing from start to finish in one go. For example, you put on the laundry and while that’s washing you take out the garbage. Then you sit down to your creative project for five or ten minutes by which time the load of laundry is ready to be put on to dry. You make and eat dinner and then sit down to your creative project again. You work on it until the laundry is done and then you put your clothes away. 
Each task was worked on as planned and each task was the focus for as long as it had to be. Perhaps you’ve got a lot of creative projects you’re working on (Like me) and you want to spend some time on each of them each day. It helps to be specific, like ‘I will write for ten minutes every day’ or ‘I will finish one sculpture a month’ but when it comes to doing it the duration needs to fit your focus. Definitely focus on just one thing, but only for the length of time that suits you. 
There are no hard and fast rules about how long you should spend doing any one task and if spending five minutes per task a day suits your style, then fantastic! You’ve found a method of working that is effective for you. But make sure that for that five minutes that you are going to paint or write an email or work on your website or read a book is spent doing just that one thing. 

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