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Time Management Strategies: Is Multitasking Worth It?

by Steve Scott | Join Him On Facebook

We’ve all become so accustomed to doing two or three things at once that it’s not unusual to see a person sitting in a coffee shop with a laptop open in front of them, a muffin in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other … all while they’re talking into the cell phone that’s propped between their chin and their shoulder.

Now that’s some serious multitasking!

Doing Four Things at Once Has Become “the Norm” at Work

It’s easy to feel like you’re being pulled in every different direction or that you’re wearing six different hats at once, whether at work or in your personal life. It can get pretty overwhelming and in order to get everything done, we usually turn to multitasking—doing more than one thing at a time. Multitasking can also be defined as moving back and forth between different tasks—doing a little bit here and a little bit there in hopes of finishing multiple projects at once.

Budget cuts at the office mean that less people are covering more of the work, and even though it sounds extremely appealing to people who’ve never done it before, working from home usually involves putting in more hours than you ever did at the office. That leads to even more multitasking. Smart phones make it really tempting to check email or send text messages throughout the day, even while you’re eating dinner with a friend or hanging out with your kids.

If your time management strategies involve trying to get as much “bang for your buck” by working on four or five projects throughout the day in hopes of finishing all of them, you’re not alone. We’ve all been guilty of multitasking. I’m not even sure if guilty is the right word, because in some cases multitasking is probably beneficial. I aim to post one piece per day on this blog, and sometimes I’ve started three of them and go back and forth between all three as I come up with more ideas and finish all three.

On the other hand, concentrating on one thing at a time—singletasking?—would probably force you to concentrate on doing your best and giving your all, wrapping up one successful project before moving on to the next.

Or would it?

Maybe it would just leave you worrying about everything else on your to-do list.

What are Your Time Management Strategies?

I don’t see anything wrong with multitasking during leisure time, such as flipping through a magazine while the TV is on, but constantly checking text messages from one friend while I’m hanging out with another one is downright rude. When it comes to work, sometimes it’s a different story. If your boss needs this, this, and this done yesterday you probably have to work on things a little bit here and a little bit there to get them all done, but I know that personally, I feel rushed when I’m trying to get a lot of things done simultaneously.

That said, I’m not totally sure if multitasking is worth it.

So my question is: works for you? Multitasking or finishing one thing before moving on to the next? Maybe you can even offer up some pros and cons of each and why you’ve chosen one over the other. Let’s help each other out with our time management strategies!

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean Mathena

I read a book awhile ago called “The Power of Focus”. Great book, and it says multi-tasking is not as good as it seems. Shutting out all distractions and laser focusing on one thing has always worked better for me. When I multi-task I usually end up with a lot of half done stuff.

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Steve Scott

There certainly is something to be said about the power of really putting 100% energy into something. It is how I personally prefer to work. Unfortunately things going on around do not always let you get away with that

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Fran Aslam

Hi Steve

As usual you choose a great subject for the blog post. Multitasking is very controversial, every one wants to say a lot on this subject. Some are deadly against it. Other do it to the extent that they can finish 4to 6 activities at the same time, but none exceptionally good.

So,again is it worth the effort? To me no. But everyone does not have to agree with it.

I want quality and exceptionally outstanding presentation to whatever I do. However, I do understand the importance of time and I do not disagree with those who multitask all the time.

So, I have to read the comments to see what every one says about it.

Your blog makes it interesting.
Have a good one
Fran Aslam

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Steve Scott

It is a personal thing, i think. I know people who are wonderful multitaskers. They seem to thrive and get excited by doing 5 things at once. Personally I like to do one thing at a time and then move on to the next.

I am too easily distracted otherwise. Oh look at the pretty bird…..

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Hector | Blog Marketing Tips

Multi-tasking kills my productivity.. to the point where I get absolutely NOTHING DONE..

Focusing on one thing, and one thing only helps me get things done much faster. I think this is something a lot of people struggle with since it has become the “norm” as you say..

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Steve@Lifestyle Design

Personally I find the same thing. Give me multiple tasks and my productivity crashes. It does seem to work for some people though.

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Ryan Biddulph

Hi Steve,

I feel that order is heaven’s first law. An orderly mind does thing step-by-step, one thing at a time. I occasionally multi-task but do my best work when not.

By focusing on one act at a time I am less anxious. In addition since I’m concentrating my full attention to the task at hand I lend my full power to it.

Thanks for sharing your insight.

Ryan

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Dia

Hi Steve,

For me, when it comes to work, I like to focus on one thing at a time. When i focus entirely on one task at a time, I find that I finish more work than if I try to multitask. Thanks for sharing

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Steve Youngs

Here’s the thing about multitasking, when you refer to it as “doing more than one thing at the same time”, it’s a complete fallacy. I doesn’t exist. Never happens. Computers don’t even do that. We’re not even doing it when we are breathing and going about our business during the day. Your brain sends the signal to contract your lung muscles that will cause you to inhale, but before that signal arrives your brain switches to another task. That next task might be to tell your heart to beat, or it might be to process another nanosecond’s worth of the idea for a new ebook you’re working on. But the thing is, it is only working on a single task at any given moment.

“Task-switching” is a much better description of what is going on. Some folks are pretty good at switching quickly and often. But there is a trade off. There is a time lag involved with each switch. You have to unfocus from the previous thing and refocus on the current thing.

Don’t get me wrong, the laser focus people have a tough time too. They have to work hard to maintain their focus and prevent their minds from its natural urge to wander onto another thing. I’m pretty jealous of these folks, I find it difficult to maintain prolonged periods of focus… oh look, there’s a kitten…

Which is better? Focused single-tasking generally will give higher quality results, but it is very often more practical to switch focus between multiple tasks. To get a more specific answer you’ll have to ask a more specific question. :-)

Kind regards,
Steve

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Steve@Lifestyle Design

Very insightful thoughts. Personally I do better with laser focus, I seem to do better not because my concentration is so strong, but because I actually am too easily distracted if I try to do it the other way.

What you say about focus only being on one task at a time, even if there is only a nanosecond switch makes a lot of sense. But how about subconsciously. Think there is anything to be gained subconciouly, or is that a nanosecond switch too?

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Steve Youngs

What sort of gain are you thinking of? And how would you take advantage of it if there was one to be had? A little snag with the subconscious is that you can’t control it or access it consciously. As for its multitasking abilities, I really have no idea, but I would say it’s a task-switcher too.

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Steve Youngs

Oh, just thought of an example that might be loosely considered multitasking that involves your subconscious. Playing educational or self-improvement audio in your car while you’re driving, or having it playing in the background while you do other things. You’re not consciously taking that much (or even any) notice to it, but if the sound is going in your ears, your brain will process it. Some of that should filter down to your subconscious.

However, you don’t have any control over what filters through, and you have even less control over what comes back up from your subconscious, or when (if at all).

BTW, in the strictest sense, this is still task-switching.

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lawmacs

Some times doing more than one thing at a time is not the best option however at work multitasking is always the norm but when you are on your own it is always different nice write up steve.

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Murlu

Multitasking can be amazing when you’re working on those mindless tasks – parsing a database while tuning into a podcast and reading through some blog posts :P

However, multitasking is actually really quite bad in terms of trying to get things done. What happens when you’re trying to work on major projects (while multitasking) is that you divert your focus so what could have taken you 2 hours has now been extended to 8 because of everything else.

If at all possible, always do your major tasks first thing in the morning while your mind is fresh and then do all those other menial tasks, ya know?

One cool little boost with singletasking (as you eloquently put it), is that you’ll boost your confidence: you finished your big thing so now you can rest assured that you did something productive for the day – this makes you glow and tackled everything else with ease.

With that being said – singletasking is hard as hell. Growing up on the net has always felt like I have to have tons of things going on in order to feel “productive” but I’m not realizing it’s only a really big distraction.

Idk, just my two cents :) Great topic Steve!

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Nat

Hey Steve

This is a great post, I am definitely one of those people who absolutely thrive on doing lots of things at once. My head is constantly going like the Twitter Feed, which can get tiring to say the least, but in terms of doing one thing then moving onto the next… my mind just can’t do that!
I do have lots of things on the go but I have learned to manage myself and my time to make sure that everything remains on track.
I get bored to tears and spend more time looking for things to do if I don’t have enough on that’s keeping me going flat out! I thrive on pressure and multi tasking
great topic
cheers
Nat

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Alex

Really insightful post Steve.

I think I am a singletasker but I then worry about all the others things I need to do, which defeats the purpose entirely.
I struggle with this no matter what – and even when I get it right, it takes me longer to actually do the task anyway, so there goes the time!

Love a follow up post on this regarding your approaches (if any) to this struggle – because surely I am not alone!!

Thanks Steve, I mean Scott :)

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John Soares

The brain cannot focus on two things at once. When you multitask your brain has to shift from one task to another and time is lost each time you shift. It’s also fatiguing, and it overall results in decreased productivity.

Multitasking works best when you’re doing one thing that doesn’t take a lot of attention, like doing dishes, and then also talking to a friend on the phone.

Pick your #1 task and work on it until it’s complete or you truly need a break.

And now I’m headed back to my #1 priority.

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Steve Scott

Good points on multitasking. I agree it definitely can be useful when you can do it with automatic responses. Like dish washing. Otherwise there can be a lot of thought involved and you cannot put nearly the same amount into any important task

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Longcase Clocks

My experience is compromising: focus on one business and, if possible on one product or service. Then multi task that specific business as much as possible. I have been doing that with my brand new grandfather clock business and it seems that this time management system starts working out well. Will keep you informed about the progress (how many grandfather clocks I’m going to sell this year). Thanks for the great post!

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Steve Scott

Good luck with your Business

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Shane Ryans

Steve,

We are all guilty of it. We hope to get more done in the time we are given, but studies show that multitasking does not work.

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Timo Kiander

Steve,

Multitasking has two sides of it: majority of time, you do many things at the same time, but never finish a single one.

However, I see that multitasking has it’s place. In fact, I learned this from a book “Find your focus zone” and the technique is called mindful multitasking.

For example, you might be doing a tedious task and in order to pump yourself up a little bit, you might want to check a web site or do something else to energize yourself. Then, you get back as refreshed to your original job and you have more energy to get stuff done.

For example, whenever I had to a boring data-entry job at work, I checked a web-page or two, but soon got back to my original task (with a refreshed mind :)

Timo

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Mhelgie

I do agree that multi tasking is really worth it especially if all the work that you are going to start and do will be finish on the right time. It will only be useless if multi tasking will be the way to not complete the works you are suppose to complete. The best thing is that if you are going to multi task make sure that you can do all of it and complete it at the right time. So that instead of being stress you can still have more time to rest for the next day.

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