The Myth of Multi-tasking

Multi-TaskingImage by Chim Chim via Flickr
I appeared on  BBC Radio Scotland this morning - providing a brief comment on the "Myth of Multitasking" along with Damon Young the Author of Distraction.  Can we really multi-task or do we just think we do?

Multi-tasking as a concept is great but it's not an effective use of your time.

If you need to concentrate, then 'multi-tasking' by switching between tasks or trying to do two or three things at once is not a very productive use of your time. You’ll lose focus on one or more of the tasks, forget what you’re doing or end up doing none of them particularly well.

Multi-tasking CAN work where one task requires less attention than the other or can be done alongside something else.  Listening to the radio while driving or working, as long as you're not distracted by the content and find you've stopped working and started listening.  [However - talking on your mobile and driving DOESN'T work well - judging by the lack of attention and standard of driving for those that try to do it.]

Use your time more effectively:

Plan what you need to get done each day. You can’t do everything, so plan what’s important. Work with a weekly and monthly plan too, so it all joins up and makes sense. Many people are unproductive because they’re working on the wrong things, wasting time on low value activities – like surfing the internet – which won’t ultimately get them where they need to be.

Be realistic – don’t create a massive to-do list you’ll never get to the bottom of. List out 5-10 actions you’re going to be able to do each day and stick to that.

Set a time limit. We often get distracted or interrupted throughout the day and suddenly realise that time has passed and you haven’t done what you intended or you got distracted by your email and half the morning has just gone. Limit your time to short bursts of activity - 15-20 minutes is fine – especially if it’s something you keep putting off or don’t enjoy doing.

Define your boundaries. Don’t allow other people and things to make too many demands on your time. People can be too quick and willing to say yes and end up working on too many different things, filling up ALL their time or being pulled in too many different directions, particularly when you’ve got your own work, children, family and your partner to think about and spend time with. You only have 24 hours in a day – don’t fill them up with no time for yourself.

Chunking - group similar tasks together.  Respond to several emails at once, make a number of phone calls in one go - rather than dealing with things as and when they come in.

Plan two or three tasks together when you’re going somewhere – drop off the recycling when you’re driving into town to do the shopping or attend a meeting. Arranging two or three meetings in the same place or on the same day to save time.

I frequently practice this one - on today's trip to the BBC Studio I paid in a cheque at the bank, picked up my repaired mobile phone, shopped for a few essentials, picked up some stationary and dropped off some recycling.
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