I haven’t met one person that hasn’t confessed to multi-tasking, despite the numerous studies that preach the dangers of the habit. In our never-ending quest for increased productivity and desire to conquer an overloaded calendar, many feel that the studies can’t be right—and the only way they can get through their day is to multi-task.
I’m someplace in the middle. I do believe that multi-tasking has its dangers and isn’t always effective. And yet I believe it has its place—and there are some cases where it really can save you time. The key is to multi-task strategically.
Before diving into how to strategically multi-task, however, I first suggest you read my tip on forced efficiency— as chances are there are tasks that might not even need to be on your list anymore at all.
Here are a few suggestions for more strategic multi-tasking:
- Determine “low engagement” calls—and pick a “mindless” task to multi-task during the call. For example, I go running during many of our “company general update” calls. For me, running is “automatic” and meditative—I often run the same routes without much traffic or crossings, so I can actively listen to a call and get my workout in at the same time. I would not, however, listen to this call while I create a report, play with my kids, or go grocery shopping. These types of tasks require some type of concentration, and thus, instead of actively listening to the call, I would really be zoning in and out of focus.
- Recognize the difference between the need to multi-task and the need to take a break. Sometimes the urge to multi-task is really the urge to “task switch” because your brain needs a break from whatever you’re doing. Instead of telling yourself that you need to multi-task, ask yourself if you really just need a 5 minute break. If a break is what you need, then allow yourself 5 minutes and fully focus on the task your switching to—whether it’s walking to the water cooler, standing up and stretching, checking a few emails, checking LinkedIn, or reading one of these blog posts.
- Determine “minimal oversight” activities with your kids—and pick an “easily interrupted” task to multi-task while your kids are performing these activities. For example, my young girls still need help with their homework, but it is actually encourages them to try first on their own (and stresses them less) if I’m not hovering over them. Thus, when they’re doing homework, I cook, put away laundry, or clean. They take a first cut at a page, and then call me when they are done with the page or when they need help. They know I’m there for them, but they learn to work independently and I get more done around the house.
- Know when being next to your kids is “good enough”, and pick a non-distracting activity to do while they do something else. Honestly, how many times can you watch the same kid movie? Once in awhile, if my kids are watching a movie that we’ve seen a million times, I will snuggle up close with them while they watch the movie, and I read a magazine or brainstorm in a notebook. Note: I don’t do this during every movie, and I don’t do a task that would create a distraction—such as working on my iPad or laptop.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be tempted to multi-task at all because we would have enough time to do everything. But that world doesn’t exist, and multi-tasking is a necessity. Choose what to multi-task wisely so it actually saves you time and doesn’t cause you to create errors and deprive people of your full attention.
Got any multi-tasking successes (or disasters) stories? Please share them with me!