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Multitasking vs. Focusing

Lots of job descriptions cite “Multitasking” as a desirable trait, and many of us pride ourselves on the ability to do this all day long.  I got a tweet last week with a link to an article called The Price, and Myth, of Multitasking and I thought about how I try to make meaningful phone calls while my e-mail is chirping on the computer, my G-chat is buzzing, my Droid is beeping about texts, Facebook says someone commented on my post, and I’m listening to music on Pandora.  OK, so this may be an exaggeration, but I have often tried to do more than one of these things at once (haven’t you?).  I have gotten a ticket ($160) for having a cell phone in my hand while driving (although I really wasn’t texting!). After seeing the above article, in which Dr. Darcy Smith points out that we really can only focus on one thing at a time, and we lose productivity while trying to do otherwise, I realized that we aren’t really multi-tasking, we’re “switch-tasking”, which of course requires a reduction in focus and concentration.

Sure enough, there is a book on this topic, The Myth of Multitasking – How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done, in which author (and business coach) Dave Crenshaw also discusses switch-tasking, and the possibly more effective “background tasking” which at least lets you focus while trying to ignore your chosen distractions!  He says so-called multi-tasking really is a lie, and it costs us time and money.

Harvard Business Review author (and business consultant) Peter Bregman (no relation) also wrote about this in his blog How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking, and he goes on to describe the joys of a week without multi-tasking (more progress, lower stress, more enjoyment of family).

I cherish my free and flexible work style that allows me to multi-task, but I realize that I’m kidding myself, and I plan to give in to the reality that discipline and self-control, which are required in order for me to focus, are probably more valuable in the ultimate pursuit of getting things done.

So now that I’ve completed this blog (in one focused sitting), I’m going to ignore other stimuli while I focus on my next productive task.  One hour at a time is good working, right?