Why multitasking doesn’t work

In this day and age, people have so much to do that they are often pressured to multitask. Bad idea – at least the way most people multi-task.  If you start one thing and then receive a phone call and that call makes you start something else and then you get an email message that reminds you to do another small task, you’re not being efficient. Even if you eventually get all three tasks done, you’re wasting effort.

Starting and stopping tasks takes time: you need to note where you are or you need to figure out where you left off. It’s like an airplane, the plane is at much slower speeds during takeoff and landing than it is at cruising altitude. When you switch tasks, it’s like adding another stop to your trip: the plane needs to slow down to land, the luggage and passengers need to be transferred and assuming there’s no delays on the connecting flight, the plane needs to take off again and eventually it’s back at cruising altitude.

The only kind of multitasking that works well is using otherwise wasted time to be productive. Some examples of this are doing work in the waiting area at your doctor’s office, listening to audio books while driving to work or getting work done while taking the train.

Also, be careful to avoid combining work with pleasure. Reader’s Digest recently had an article about a single father who shared custody of his daughter with his ex-wife. He had a demanding job, so on some of the precious few nights that he had with his daughter, she’d end up watching him work instead of them doing something fun together. When this happens, no one is happy.

So when you’re focused on an important task, close down your mail client and let some calls go into voice mail. Designate a block of time to check voice and email messages so they don’t slow you down.

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