On The Inefficiency Of Multitasking


This post from the Harvard Business Review’s blog is spot on, you should read it.  In The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, the author talks about multitasking and why it really doesn’t work.

Consequences of multitasking
I’m a to-do list kind of lady, it helps me stay focused.  There are times when I can’t help but to get side-tracked from checking things off of my list.  Players may drop in the office, or my boss may pop in to chat about something, or an email may chime in demanding immediate attention.  But most times, I can script my day and I try to get as much done (I thing at a time) as I can.  Without my to-do list, I think I’d fall prey to multitasking.  Here are some downsides:

  • We become partially engaged in multiple things, but rarely fully engaged in one.
  • We increase our time to finish each task by 25%.
  • In a word: burnout.

I wrote about it in You Think You Can But You Can’t: On The Evils Of Multitasking if you’d like to see more info.

Changing group expectations
Part of society’s multitasking problem is it has become built in to our culture.  I get work emails and texts at nine, ten, or eleven o’clock at night.  Of course, I choose to look at my phone to check them…but why are they even being sent?  In my post, Step Away From The Computer: Why Unplugging Will Keep You Sane, I talk about creating time for ourselves by creating electronics-free time.  Here are three ways that we can help our teams understand the beauty of doing one thing at a time:

  • Maintain practice discipline.  We’ve got to show our players that they can be focused for an extended period of time…and not resort to their crutch phones to entertain them.
  • Stop expecting immediate responses.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets annoyed if I send an email or text and don’t hear back right away.  As if everyone in the world is sitting around staring at their computer or phone waiting to hear from me.  Not only is this attitude selfish, it’s a little arrogant as well.
  • Encourage rest.  Talking to our players about the benefit of resting, of really doing nothing should be something we deem important.  Physical, as well as mental, rest is essential for balance.

Changing personal expectations
How can we adjust our personal expectations so that we can find balance in our lives?  I wrote a post called, Take These 3 Steps To Become A More Effective Leader, based on a great article from The American Scholar called, Solitude and Leadership.  You should check it out, because it talks about how to counter this attitude that we always have to be “on”.  Here are three things we can do to change our personal mindsets about multitasking:

  • Do the most important stuff in the morning.  It’s funny, everyone here at work says the same thing:  I get more work done in the morning before everyone else gets into the office.  What if we planned our days in that manner?  We could close our office doors for an hour or so and be super productive.
  • Schedule strategic/creative time.  This way we’re not always reacting to situations, but being proactive.  I’m a big fan of assessing my seasons…I can’t do that if I’m always running around like my pants are on fire.
  • Take real vacations.  Going to Spain, but constantly checking your work email and texts doesn’t count.  A real vacation could be taking a week off to tend to your garden and not worrying about work stuff.

Full disclosure, I couldn’t even get through writing this post without checking my phone. As organized as I am, I can still be distracted by the various beeps and chimes of my phone.  How much quicker would we finish our to-do lists if we didn’t let outside things grab our attention?  I don’t know about you, but I’d like to find out.

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