Expand the duration - with task switching

MythThe local weekly in our area has a piece on multitasking by a local psychiatrist and author, Dr. Blaise Aguirre, The myth of multitasking. The article centers around helping kids do better in school, but he also summarizes a lot of the recent research on the topic in less than a thousand words.  I particularly like this quote:

Worse, we waste time when we multitask as it takes four times longer to do two tasks effectively than it takes to do each one individually.

While there is no additional attribution (it's a newspaper after all), this is in line with my observations.  And how often are people doing only two things at a time?  Note that this is talking about tasks that require attention and focus, not the more automatic tasks that can operate in the background.  People often use the term "task switching" to be clearer about which variety of multitasking is being discussed.

Look at organizations where people are dependent upon one another to get things done - just about every organization.  Working in a multitasking (or task-switching) mode makes it look like everyone is busy, but that isn't what people need.  People need to FINISH things.  Multitasking in this way ensures lots of stuff is happening, but it doesn't get things DONE.

The take away?  Please learn how to say, "No" to attention-sinks from yourself and to your colleagues.  Finish what you've started, and then move to the next thing.  You will be surprised.

Just don't ask me how long it took for me to get everything in place to write this simple blog entry.

[Photo: "Myth" by liquidnight]

2 Comment(s)

Mary said:

A very interesting blog. In my own opinion, multitasking is not a waste of time. I do that most of the time, especially when I'm doing the laundry with the washing machine. While the washing machine is spinning I'm cleaning the house at the same time. Is that a waste of time? I think not.

Of course, this is not multitasking. But if you stop cleaning the bathroom to move the laundry, and then you start cleaning the kitchen, and then you stop to move the laundry again, and then you start cleaning the kid's room, and then go fold the laundry, and THEN get back to the bathroom... You are multitasking and everything is taking longer to do.

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