Multitasking: friend or foe?

Monday, March 09, 2009

I always thought having an ability to multitask was a good thing--a skill to list on a resume, a positive asset at work. My impression was that it said, "WOOOOOOOO, I can do TWO things awesomely at the SAME TIME! Sometimes MORE than two things!"

Lately, I've been finding quite the opposite is true. Multitasking sucks and instead of doing multiple things well, I'm just doing multiple things crappily, and nine times out of ten I have to go back and do them over again. Combine that with an increasingly ADD nature of checking my email every time I get a new message, feeling the need to get involved with every single conversation going on within a 20-foot radius of my desk, and having a to-do list as long as my arm, I decided it's time to revamp my work habits.

I thought about it over the weekend and realized I'm multitasking essentially all day long. That's exhausting. Examples from the past couple of days:

1. When talking to my parents on the phone (which I only do twice a week), I'm either playing on the Internet, reading magazines, or tidying up the apartment.
2. When I'm watching TV I'm either painting or lifting weights
3. On Saturday I was trying to do crunches on a stability ball while reading an article for work (!!!)

That last incident kind of drove the point home for me that sometimes doing one thing well is better than doing two things half-assedly. I was falling off the ball and doing shitty crunches, plus I wasn't retaining what I was reading whatsoever and I had to reread the article when I was done. I thought I was being productive by combining two things at a time but all I'd done was doubled my efforts and gained nothing.

For me, the two biggest things that hurt my output at work are distractions such as email and phone calls, and trying to do too many things at once. I have a tendency to want to respond to every email and every request right away and end up adding mountains to my to-do list as a result.

This week I'm turning over a new's Monday, so it's a fresh start and all that, right?

1. Write a to-do list for the day first thing in the morning and allot chunks of time to each task. Example: status meeting 9-10, edit document 10-10:30, etc. I'll only deviate from this plan if something urgent comes up. Sounds anal, huh? Well, I like anal. (Wait...what...??)
2. Check email at designated times only. This is going to kill me. I'll check email at 10:00, 12:00, 2:00, and 4:00 and again before leaving. Oh, wow. I'm shaking a little just thinking about it.
3. At the end of the day I'll make a to-do list for tomorrow.
4. Use iTunes as needed as an anti-distraction tool (with headphones, obvi.) I have lots of nice, soothing, get-shit-done music that I like to listen to at work and I find I do my best work when I'm kind of zoned out and not paying as much attention to what's going on around me in the office. I love the busy, active atmosphere but it's REALLY hard to hunker down and not be social a lot of the time, which is why if I have an important document to work on, like a brief or a report, I usually prefer to work on it from home or out of the office so I can concentrate better.

I'm so excited to get to work right now and get started with my new habits, I can hardly brush my teeth.

Happy Monday, everyone!

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  1. At work I have a notebook. Every single day I make a to do list. What doesn't get done gets copied over to the next day (next page) of the notebook. Plus I jot down little notes about things, phone numbers etc. in it, and it reminds me of when I wrote the note, depending on what day/page I wrote it on. I've been doing this for years. It really does help. Plus that way you never throw anything away, so if you ever need to go back and prove when you did something it's right there.

  2. I'm pretty old school about my to-do list too. I don't like using my Entourage or Google calendars. A nice old-fashioned day planner works best for me!

    I agree--it's really good for tracking time. We have to enter our time for every individual client/project we worked on each day and having the written list makes that process a lot easier.

  3. Ahh, you totally hit the nail on the head!

    I don't know if its just our industry or what, but I've got the same issues that you do, down to listening to iTunes to drown people out!

    I never seem to get any work done when people are around so I find myself staying late just so I can get things done without interruptions.

    One thing that I find does help me is just my plain notebook (like others have mentioned) I keep my notes, scribbles, ideas and to-do list in there. I've tried using Outlook and other programs, but there's nothing so satisfying as crossing off an item from your list.

  4. haha I do love this blog :)

    i tried something similar a couple of weeks back...

    I wanted to get my working life more organised. It went really well for a few days, but as they say old habbits die hard.

  5. PS - Like the new layout. The orange and black was cool, but this is really nice

  6. thanks steve! i'm pretty ADD about my layout and am trying to settle on one i like. so far so good (but it's only been 2 days!)

    ginger--i'm sure you can relate! i usually end up staying at my desk through lunch plus working late to get things done yet i'm probably only doing 5-6 hours of solid "work" (out of 9-10 in the office). the other big time-sucker is meetings. so many meetings! i can't avoid those, but i'm going to make a big effort to focus more on my work outside of mandatory meetings this week. even today was a big improvement. i didn't stick to the email schedule as planned but i cut down on checking it significantly, and the world kept turning :)

  7. I used to also think there was such a thing as Multi-tasking but there isn't. There is no such thing. Every word in this post is 100% anal-ly correct! lol