Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Slowing Down By Eliminating Multitasking

For a few years now, I've wondered if slowing down could actually make us more productive.  I considered this question in:

Recently I stumbled upon Why You Should Be Single-Tasking, Not Multitasking & How To Make The Switch by Anne Marie O'Connor. She actually includes some strategies for staying with a single task. They look to me as if some of them could help with the slower work I'd like to be doing. Over the coming weeks, I'll address how they could apply specifically to writers.

The Multitasking Issue

O'Connor isn't the first person to suggest eliminating multi-tasking in order to improve productivity. The issue with multitasking is that it doesn't actually exist. Humans can't do two things at the same time, they're just switching, even if only psychologically, back and forth between tasks or thoughts. O'Connor sites research going back twenty years (meaning this isn't new news) that suggests multitasking actually slows people down. "...multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time." More recent information supports the idea that multitasking shouldn't be your first time management choice. (And, yes, I did notice that one of the people quoted in this article is named Gauthier.)

A simple example--Do you do other things while you're watching TV? Write blog posts, letters, journal entries? Catch up on social media? Picture yourself on your couch, with your TV in front of you and whatever other thing you're doing on your lap. Are your eyes on the TV all the time you're working on something else? Are your eyes on your laptap or phone all the time you're watching TV? No, you're switching back and forth.

And that's what happens when you think you're doing any kind of multitasking. You're not doing two things at the same time, you're switching back and forth between tasks.

 Multitasking Vs. Multipliers 

The time and productivity difficulties created by multitasking can be illustrated when comparing it to using multipliers.

With multitasking you believe you're doing more than one task at a time, but in reality you are just quickly switching from one to another. This means that at various points you're in the midst of multiple tasks, at various points you have multiple tasks uncompleted and hanging over your head. Getting a sense of rush, pressure, and overwhelm? I am.

With multipliers, instead of switching among different tasks, you're working on only one task at a time. But that one task addresses more than one goal. You'll get more than one benefit from the one task. A quick and recent example is my effort last week to write a 53-word piece of flash fiction. That one task resulted in:
  • material to read at a workshop I'm attending
  • material to submit to a contest
  • material for a blog post (two, since I'm using it for part of this post, too)
  • material on eating/food, something I've been wanting to write about for a while
You can see how much more effort I would have had to have made and pressure I would have been under if I had been trying to switch between four different tasks to get four different results.

Coming Next Week


Next week I'll begin discussing some of Anne Marie O'Connor's suggestions for eliminating multitasking from your work life, how they can relate specifically to writers, and how this might slow down work while making us more productive. 

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