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Multi-tasking Isn’t Always a Bad Idea

Multi-tasking Isn’t Always a Bad Idea

    Multi-tasking; it seems that people are going to have big debates about this topic until the end of time.

    Recently, a book came out that claimed to “bust” the multi-tasking myth – as many authors have done over the decades. It’s nothing new. And the blog posts that spring up saying nothing but, “this is nothing new,” are nothing new either.

    Let’s get a little perspective here. I think in most situations where some pocket of humanity is forming an opinion, we have a truth that is somewhere in the middle, and then two extreme, polarized opinions based on opposite sides of that less extreme reality. People cling to polarized opinions even when the truth has been proven right in front of their eyes.

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    Multi-tasking (or switch-tasking as the new buzz word goes) is usually a bad idea. No doubt about that, but the keyword is usually.

    Because on the contrary, multi-tasking can be a useful way to make the most of time that would have otherwise been used inefficiently. It’s about making the most out of time, when it’s a good idea to do so. But how do you determine when it’s a good idea to multi-task?

    Only Two Activities at Once

    If you’re going to multi-task, then only attempt to tackle two activities at once. If 95% of the time you can only focus on one task effectively, that remaining 5% of the time, you can only handle two tasks at once without reducing the effectiveness of each task to a point where there’s little point in doing anything at all.

    Imagine trying to cook, talk on the phone, and read a book. You could sure manage to cook and talk on the phone at the same time, but all three at once isn’t going to work. Our ability to perform tasks adequately hits its maximum at two, and that’s an upper maximum at that.

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    Of course, we can’t just multi-task any two activities, or I’d be writing two articles right now.

    Levels of Concentration

    There are two main types of task: those that require concentration, and those that can be done on autopilot.

    As a rule, you can’t truly multi-task unless one of the two tasks at hand is one you do on autopilot, such as washing the dishes.

    There are varying degrees of concentration requirement, too – listening to an audiobook while doing the dishes is easy because we have one task that’s easily done on autopilot with one task that requires concentration, but only concentration on incoming information. There’s no generation of outgoing information, so it’s easy and time efficient to multi-task.

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    When there’s a task that requires creating output, such as dictating a diary or brainstorming ideas into a tape recorder while doing the dishes, it needs to be fairly stream-of-consciousness or free-flowing. To work on something structured, high-level, or strategic requires total concentration.

    The Best Reason to Say No to Multi-tasking

    The best reason to say no to multi-tasking is not because it doesn’t work or it doesn’t exist. The true statement there is that it usually doesn’t exist.

    The best reason to say no to multi-tasking is because it is a crutch. It is a gateway to low-resistance activities that allow us to procrastinate when we should be working on higher-yield activities that require more intensive thought.

    It’s much easier to check email while reading RSS feeds than it is to write an article or plan a marketing campaign, so we resort to those easier activities that don’t require us to push past the resistance.

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    Multi-tasking does a great job of covering up the fact that we’re doing nothing, and we even fool ourselves with it. But unless you know that at the end of the day your current activities are going to have advanced your project or goals, you’re wasting your time out of fear of tackling those goals.

    If this is you, avoid multi-tasking. Think of it as a scourge; it’s the closest thing to a gateway drug to procrastination to you.

    One Question to Rule Them All

    At the end of the day, it would be stupid to suggest you need to measure the concentration level of a task and add one tablespoon of autopilot activities to create a multi-tasking mix. It needs to be an easy question you ask yourself, to which I hope the answer is usually in the negative or you’re spending all your time on low-yield activities as we just discussed.

    Understanding how multi-tasking works and more importantly, how it doesn’t work, is essential to answering this question honestly for yourself, though. But it’s a simple question:

    Can I give both activities the attention they deserve and perform at an adequate level?

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 13, 2020

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

    1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

    The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

    Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

    For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

    The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

    2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

    Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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    As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

    Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

    3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

    Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

      This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

      We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

      Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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      When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

      Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

      4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

      Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

      For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

      Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

      5. Make Decisions

      For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

      If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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      If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

      Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

      I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

      This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

      The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

      6. Take Some Form of Action

      Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

      The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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      It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

      Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

      The Bottom Line

      Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

      When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

      More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

      Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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