Here is the truth about multi-tasking…you can’t do it!
Have you ever watched a self-proclaimed multi-tasker at work? It’s almost comedic to observe the erstwhile multi-tasker in their state of frenetic, frantic, fantasy. I found a company called Despair.com and they have an awesome poster (below) which I think sums it all up.
How do I know? I have tried multi-tasking and must keep reminding myself why it doesn’t work.
First, like the poster says it seems like a do twice the work…but half as well. When I try to multi-task invariably there are mistakes, missing words, and numbers in the wrong place. The result, I must go back and correct the work that I did, taking up the time that I supposedly saved by multi-tasking!
Depending on what I am doing I tend to “commingle” projects where I get pieces of this project mixed in with another project. Again, requiring me to go back and extract the “boo-boo” and clean it up.
I find that I get the best work when I “compartmentalize” and focus on the task at hand. First, I eliminate distractions. I know that if I am interrupted it can take me minutes to remember what I was doing, then I have to reconstruct in my mind what was coming next. Sometimes the “reconstruction” takes longer than others!
Second, I lose stuff. I spent 20 minutes last week looking for my reading glasses…which were pushed up on my head. I walked around the entire office trying to figure out where I had put them down…only to discover them on my forehead.
Third, the sense of gratification at having completed the task. I live by the theory T.R.A.F. or Trash, Refer, Act, or File. I learned this from a book called Organized to be your best, by Susan Silver. In short if it’s not relevant I simply launch it into the circular file. If it’s not within my purview, I simply refer it to whomever is responsible for that department. If it’s something I am interested in, I have learned to act on it immediately. I have on occasion set something “aside” for later only to discover I have put it somewhere so safe I can’t find it. My newer computers have a greater ability to hide things from me than I have a capacity to remember where I put them. Finally, if I don’t need it now but may need it later I File it. That way I can get it off my desk and move on.
Part of my new-found discipline is using a virtual assistant. This was really brought home for me after reading Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek (see book list for additional resources). For a few dollars an hour I can off-load all the busy work that I don’t need, or want to do.
Recently, I had my “assistant” add 300 of my workshop attendees to my database, all while I was sleeping. He did the task as I slumbered, I woke to a complete and updated database. With technology you can employ assistants to do virtually anything inexpensively while you focus on the task that absolutely require your time an attention.
In closing I would suggest if you want to get more done in less time, enjoy less stress, and do an occasional victory dance don’t try to multi-task. Compartmentalize, assign a finite amount of time for the task and watch the task get done. It has been said that “work” expands to fill the time allowed…conversely, if a specific time block is assigned it’s amazing how often the task gets done.