If you are a student of time management then you will have read at some point that multi-tasking is not a good thing to do. The act of multi-tasking means that you cannot provide the right amount of attention to any one thing and thus you will end up doing a poor job of all tasks.
Personally I’m not sure I buy that … but it might also just be a question of interpretation.
In my job I always have many tasks on the go at the once … and certainly there is an opportunity for me to be doing one thing while my mind is processing a different problem, which is a recipe for disaster! I’m just not that good!
For me the problem is not one of multi-tasking, it is one of focus.
You absolutely need to dedicate your focus to the task at hand, to be “in the moment”, rather than let your mind wander to other subjects or tasks.
There has been a fair bit of discussion in the media over the last several years about the use of cell phones in cars. I don’t think it is the cell phones that are the problem, its the people on them!!! There is no way that you can be focused on the task of driving whilst having any kind of meaningful conversation. If anything out of the ordinary happens in traffic then you are in a world of hurt. You CAN have a conversation IF you remember that your number one priority is driving, but generally people don’t do this and the result is that more and more authorities are banning the use of phones in cars. Here are some other activities I see on a regular basis that might be banned in the future … eating, putting make-up on, sending text messages; and reading … all while “driving” a couple of tons of metal at speed!
So … back to focus and multi-tasking. I believe it is not only possible, but absolutely essential for productive people to be able to address multiple tasks at the same time. However the way to do it is to have multiple tasks “on the go” at the same time, but to only being actually be executing on one task at any given moment.
In my world I could be working on many tasks related to my management role at Eagle, my board positions on the industry associations or my volunteer roles with charities. In order to get through those tasks I will have many “on the go” at the same time, but if I am dealing with one of those tasks the others need to be on the back burner. My FOCUS needs to be on the task at hand.
The brain is pretty cool … it does stuff in the background, whether you want it to or not! You can use that power, because when you come back to a prior task you may well find you have clarity of vision that was not there before, you may have answers, or even questions, that had not occurred when it was your “task of the moment” previously.
Sometimes, particularly when I am “extra busy’, have let things pile up, or have been away from the office for a while I will find myself “flitting’ from task to task. It sometimes takes a little while to realise I have degenerated into that “flitting” mode. When that happens I have to get myself back in control. I will revisit my “To DO” list … make sure all of my tasks have been identified. The mere act of writing them all down clears my mind of worrying that I might miss something. I will look at my list and decide what I will work on … and take that task as far as a I can, or work on it for as long as I am willing to devote time to it. Then I will move on to the next task.
I may have my priorities altered for me as “situations” arise, but I can always come back to my tasks and I can deal with multiple tasks … but in a controlled manner. My focus is where it needs to be and this way I can be my most productive.
Whether you are driving a car, playing a sport, doing your job or having a conversation with your child … you will be most effective if the task at hand has your attention. A distracted approach to any of those tasks can lead to disaster, a poor work performance or even a relationship that suffers.
Be in the moment and be your most effective … and of course it means you won’t crash into me on the highway!