The Illusion of Multitasking

5 Dec

Two weeks ago, I was in the middle of a worship service directing my choir from the piano and I suffered a serious case of mental indigestion.  Uh…excuse me – you may be more familiar with the term “brain fart.”  For years, I have played the piano, directed my choir and the musicians and even changed gears in the middle of service.   But this particular Sunday, I realized that I could not be effective at simultaneously doing each of those tasks anymore.

According to Russell Poldrack, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California,

“the brain can make only one decision at a time.  If you switch tasks, your brain has to close out that task and boot up another.  You are not multitasking – you’re switching back and forth.  The reason that multitasking is bad cognitively is that you basically waste time doing that switching.”

I’m finding that there is a way to effectively multitask.  For the last few years, I’ve been studying project management using Covey’s Planning System, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Project and my Blackberry.  I have even gone as far as to design and print my own planner (which I still use to this day).  Each method has one thing in common – they are are built on the principles of project management.  If you have ever used these systems,  you’ll notice that timing is key.  Appointments and tasks have a start time, end time, duration, status, recurrence and due date. 

Multitasking does exist.  But you can only be effective after grasping project management principles.  Projects are just like a family tree.  They contain many relatives with the same family name.  Without using the project heading (or family name), your tasks appear to be totally unrelated.  That’s the illusion created when multitasking is considered apart from project management.  The perspective of project management gives you the common thread that relates all of your tasks.  The perspective of multitasking often reveals random tasks.  Identifying the common thread between my tasks has shown me my strengths – facilitation, development and change – just to name a few. 

Another benefit of thinking like a project manager is that you decrease the time it takes you to refocus.  How? By considering the project from start to finish.  Did you know that it takes employees about five minutes to switch their focus?  And in 27 percent of the interruptions, it took employees more than two hours to resume their original task.  It’s easier to just stay on track rather than get back on track.

Refocusing takes time and breaks your workflow.    I’ve found that when I think through all the tasks of my projects beforehand, I can anticipate the points where I will have to wait on someone else to complete their task.  I can anticipate a space where I have to wait for my computer to boot up.  And it’s up to me how I fill that space (I use the Two-Minute Task method). 

By combining multitasking and project management, you multitask with focus. 

Check back on Monday for more on the Two Minute Task method.

All posts on “My Future In Focus” Weblog are the intellectual property of T.A. and are licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No derivative Works 3.0 United States License


One Response to “The Illusion of Multitasking”

  1. anointedvessel Wednesday, 10 December 2008 at 5:03 PM #

    oh yah happens all the time, chewing gum and walking then you trip over your own feet, pick one! Chew gum for heaven sakes. Who needs to walk. I’ll just sit here and read this blog all day. tee he he Say hi to mommy and peanut number 1,2 and 3. Ah triplets!!!


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