Multitasking for Dummies

I have been conducting an on-again, off-again study of my own performance with multitasking.

Bottom line: It sucks.

My productivity on an hourly basis for devoting 90% or more of my attention to a single task so outperforms the equivalent productivity when handling two or three tasks that I quit multitasking all together. I use my little notebook to keep track of the other tasks that I need to get done when I think of them. I just whip out a pen, increment the task number by one, and list the task next to it. Badaboom, badabing, and done. Then I get back to the task at hand. The net results are:

  • I’m less stressed. I don’t have to worry about making sure I got all the steps done on two, three, or four items at once. I finish one task, move on to the next.
  • I do better quality work. By practicing focusing all my attention on the task at hand, I do a better job, do it faster, and finish it knowing that it’s my best work. See less stressed above.
  • Because I’m finishing faster, and doing better quality work, I actually get more done during the week. Sure, some days I fall a little behind. But by the end of the week, I’m ahead of schedule. Case in point: S.O. and I watched TWO movies together one weekend – one in a theatre, and another via Netflix (Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers. S.O. had never seen it before).
  • I’m setting To Do lists better. See, I realized that part of the reason I wasn’t Getting Things Done was that I was picking too many Big Items to do, instead of breaking it down into Small Items. Getting Small Items done leads to whittling the Big Items down to completion. This is a subtle thing, and takes practice.

Now, contrariwise, there are some tasks that are OK to multitask on. For example: Watching TV and sorting through mail. Both are low “performance requirement” tasks. TV – just keep track of what’s happening in the series. Sorting mail – put the mail in one of three categories (shred, immediate response, put a due date on the envelope and stick it in the queue). When I shred mail, I give it one last, quick, two second check to make sure I’m not about to shred something important. If I’d devoted 90% or more of my attention to the single task of mail sorting, I would have finished it faster, but missed out on the latest episode of the TV series. There are also the obvious items – loading the dishwasher and running it while folding laundry, or doing online financial transactions while scanning in the hardcopy documents I received that week. But those are actually far fewer than our job training would have us believe. Plus, the quality of work I do on the online financial transactions is actually better if I just focus on them, and leave the document scanning for another time.

Pookah would like to point out that humans can watch TV, listen to music, or watch movies while holding Pookahs in their laps and petting them. Multitasking does work. Humans should multitask like this every hour.

6 Responses to “Multitasking for Dummies”

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  2. Jahongir says:

    Guess what it only works on YouTube,How about videos in your phone?I found a semi auto way it seems like apple is all out to get us on this one, it stops the video at every turn.You can run 1 music video in the bunrgkoacd without multitasking though. At least it’s in the bunrgkoacd, so u can enjoy 3 minutes of bliss with ur phone in the pocket. Not sure why apple took it out for 4.3 and after Here’s how to do it 1 Run ur video2 double click home to bring up panel (pauses video)3 swipe panel to show media control4 play video via those controls5 press lock button to turn off iPhone screenVoila plays 1 mv in the bunrgkoacd. Eat that apple.

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  6. Esther says:

    I have a theory…. I believe multi-tasking is a good tactical response. People who are good at tactical responses work well with people with strategic world views.

    That would be you.

    Smoochies, and Sassy waves a languid paw at Pookah. She is the reason I have finally organized my desk — she expects half of it to be reserved for her, so the rest has to be neat.

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