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The method of focusing multiple things at a time is called multitasking. The theory is that multitasking allows you to do more than one thing at a time. Sounds like the perfect answer to productivity woes, doesn’t it? This week I am going to focus on multitasking and how it actually complicates our lives and makes us less productive and ultimately less peaceful. In this article I will tackle some specific strategies on how not to multitask.
Over at Zen Habits, Leo posted an article (How NOT to Multitask – Work Simpler and Saner) on how to get around multi-tasking. The top part of the article has a great section on the whys of not multitasking:
- Multi-tasking is less efficient, due to the need to switch gears for each new task, and the switch back again.
- Multi-tasking is more complicated, and thus more prone to stress and errors.
- Multi-tasking can be crazy, and in this already chaotic world, we need to reign in the terror and find a little oasis of sanity and calm.
While I think Leo has some great ideas on general work strategies, I think that not multitasking requires less steps. Here is my method on how not to multitask:
1. Decide how long you can focus on a task
When you first start single-tasking, it is going to be very difficult to focus without getting distracted. Start small and decide how long you will focus on a task. I like 15 minutes; you can do anything for 15 minutes, and it is long enough to make progress while being short enough to not seem like you are neglecting other tasks. Use a timer so that checking the clock does not become the secondary task.
2. Figure out what exactly you are trying to do.
If you are writing an article, the task at hand is to write the article, not file or research. By figuring out exactly what it is you need to do ahead of time, you will have an easier time realizing when you have slipped into multitasking.
3. Stay on track
Once you have set the timer, start working. Let the phone calls go to voice mail and don’t check email. If a thought comes to you and you are afraid of losing it, write it down quickly and return gently, but immediately, to the task at hand. When the timer goes off, stop working and assess what you have done.
I believe that with practice, we can all slow down and stop multitasking. And as we stop multitasking, our lives will become calmer and more peaceful.
Photo by eflon