The danger of multitasking
I have a lot of stuff to do. I’m taking a full load of classes, working a couple jobs, serving on a few exec boards, and I have obligations to my friends. People are always contacting me via email, Facebook, and text message giving me new tasks every day. So it makes sense to always stay connected and tackle multiple tasks at once, right?
I went along with this mindset for most of last year. You could often find me in the library with Facebook and Gmail open at the same time even while doing homework that didn’t require the internet. Sometimes an email would come that required me to do a little research before I could respond. So I always took a break from my task and did whatever was mentioned in the email. I was tackling my homework and communications at once.
Then I realized something. Simple tasks were taking forever. Whenever I went back to my original task, I would spend a few minutes getting reacquainted with what I was doing. This definitely wasn’t productive. Sometimes I spent more time thinking about how much I had to do than I spent actually doing anything. So I starting using a new system that worked quite a bit better than multitasking. Here are a few things I’ve learned…
Never do two things at once. Whenever I’m going to do something, I determine how much I want to get done in that session. Then I cut myself off from communication until it’s done. The only exception is texts and phone calls, depending how urgent they are.
Communicate in between tasks. I only communicate after I’m done with a task. That way, nothing irrelevant will take away my focus from what I’m doing. If someone urgently needs me, they probably have my phone number.
List and prioritize tasks. When I think of something I need to do, I add it to the list. When someone asks me to do something, I add it to the list. I use a web application called Toodledo, which allows me to assign a due date and priority to each task. When it’s time to be productive, I look at my “hotlist”, which is a dynamically generated list of my most important tasks at that moment. Something of low priority that’s due tomorrow will have roughly the same weight as something of high priority that’s due in three days.
Don’t fight distractions. Whenever I tried to be productive, I always ended up on YouTube or some other procrastination destination. So I tried to cut myself off from all these distractions. And you know what? That didn’t do a damn thing. With such easy access to the internet, I always wound up somewhere that killed my productivity. So instead of fighting it, I now make time for it. When I’m stuck on a problem or my focus is totally gone, I’ll give myself 15 minutes to distract myself. Often I’ll find myself more focused after taking these short breaks.
All of these tips take some getting used to. If there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s that trying to do multiple things at once is rarely good for productivity. If you don’t believe me, take it from a man who knows much more than I do…
Here’s an awesome infographic from OnlineCollege.org with some great statistics: