In the era of technology and social media, multitasking sounds very convenient if we want to get more done doing a bunch of tasks all at once.
Consider this scenario:
You’re in the middle of working on a project that is due the next day. At the same time, you have multiple browsers open on your computer while your phone is on your desk with notifications going off like crazy. To top that off, you have a colleague who stops by to chat- you decide to talk and type on your computer. Or even worst, you chat with your colleague, working on your computer with one hand and texting on your phone with the other side.
Does this sound efficient? Not only are you working on a bunch of tasks all at once, but you are working on a more critical job (i.e., project) while tackling smaller tasks. These are some questions addressed in Dave Crenshaw’s book, The Myth of Multitasking. This book breaks down the myth that multitasking is an excellent practice to getting more things done. In this article, I will discuss four main takeaways from the book and wrap up with showing you an example I tried out to see if multitasking works or not. The four points include:
1.) Switchtasking, Not Multitasking
2.) Switchtasking Not Effective
3.) Schedule Recurring Meetings
4.) Set A Model To Employees Over Forcing Change
Takeaway # 1: Switchtasking (Active & Passive), Not Multitasking
Crenshaw brings up the idea that multitasking was a traditional approach in the past, but that times have changed in the era of technology and social media. Whether they are smartphones, tablets, or going on social media sites, these serve as huge distractions that make it more challenging to get more done in less time. Moreover, multitasking is a lie, and Crenshaw says that this is more known as switchtasking. Switchtasking is no better; it is still inefficient and an inadequate way of getting more things done. There are types of switchtasking:
a.) Active Switchtasking- This takes place in a situation you create yourself. A typical example of this would be talking on the phone while checking your email.
b.) Passive Switchtasking- This takes place in situations created by something or someone else. For instance, you are working on a project with the deadline approaching, only find yourself interrupted by a colleague who stops by and wants to chit-chat with you.
Takeaway # 2: Switchtasking Not As Effective
Switchtasking may be necessary for some jobs, but overall it is not sufficient for increasing productivity. Crenshaw gives an example of a CEO of a local retail company. The CEO usually faces interruptions every hour each day, so it’s become a regular thing for her to encounter. When a colleague stops by, she types on the computer while talking to her at the same time. However, if the CEO asks questions requiring more thoughtful responses, she may have to stop what she is doing to think over the items carefully. That may not seem like a big deal, but once she returns to her task, it’ll take a few minutes to regain the focus she had earlier. So she lost time, even if it was a couple minutes or so.
Takeaway # 3 Best Solution: Schedule Recurring Meetings
One of the biggest obstacles in the workplace is people aren’t so sure when is the best time to chat with somebody else. One solution Crenshaw suggests is to schedule recurring meetings with those you need to meet regularly. By scheduling these meetings, you will get more uninterrupted time to get your most important work done.
On another point, it’s good to let people know what times of the day you are available to speak with them. For example, some managers will post office hours at their desks, indicating those hours when they are free. Also, it’s useful to set up your voicemail and email messaging systems in a similar approach as well. So, if you have people who reach you via phone throughout the day, you can state in your voicemail what times of the day you check messages. The same guideline applies for email- let others know when you look over and respond to an email so that they can get an idea when you respond to their emails.
Takeaway # 4 Be A Model To Your Employees Over Forcing Change
Crenshaw talks about how you can schedule a meeting, letting everyone know to stop switchtasking moving forward. Instead, use yourself as a model to implement a new type of system at your company. Your example may show to your employees that focusing on one task at a time is much more effective. From there, you can explain to employees how inefficient switchtasking can be and how it takes more time away from your priorities.
Additionally, Crenshaw discusses how establishing a personal system can influence others and create meaningful change in your company. Not only can it change the culture, but it will make your business more efficient, an increase in employee productivity, and of course, bring in more clients and revenue down the road. These are the long term impacts that business owners and CEO aim to achieve in growing their companies. Now your model doesn’t have to be followed by your employees; however, it can serve as a foundation for others to set up their models. Everyone doesn’t need to act the same way, but whatever model they practice and work best for them, they should stick with it.
In summary, multitasking is no longer useful and considered a thing of the past. It may have worked before. Still, in the advent of the digital era, multitasking is irrelevant, with more distractions present in the 21st century. As Crenshaw mentioned, a common practice today is known as switchtasking- going back and forth in completing tasks at once. Multitasking or switchtasking, both terms sound similar.
One final point from the book: I did an example to determine how productive multitasking is. So I wrote down the following sentence: “Multitasking Drains Time.” So I wrote it out, beginning with each letter followed by a number afterward. From what I wrote down, this took me much longer to do instead of writing just the sentence alone.
Here’s a look:
Writing this out took me much longer than I thought! Doing this task is one example of why multitasking isn’t practical. Try doing the same thing, and see what you think.
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