Making the Problems of Multitasking Real


Clarke Ching's Multitasking MAKES YOU STUPID is another great article. But when I teach PMs or coach managers, they say, “I need to multitask to get things done.” Or, they say, “I'm ok with multitasking.”

Even smart people think they can do a couple of things at one time. Maybe they can. But the more things you try to focus on, the less overall you do. Think about that word focus for a few seconds. When you focus on something, you concentrate. If you're attempting to think or work on several different things, you're not focusing on anything.

I once worked for a company who decided its mission was to “focus on five.” Even then, I knew five was too big a number. But when I suggested we focus on two, my suggestion was dismissed. Company no longer exists.

Deciding what to do –and what not to do — is not simple. I just created a simulation (Esther reviewed it for me) to hammer home the point that we all have a limited attention span, and when we pay the necessary attention to one thing, we're not paying attention to something else. In the simulation, people have to make choices about what to do and what not to do. I'm using the simulation for the first time next week. We'll see how it goes. Maybe I'll be able to report back.

If you're faced with multitasking demands, stop for a few seconds. What's the most strategically important work? Do that first. If you have three or seventeen things you think are all at the same importance and you can't rank them, ask your boss. You'll find that a bunch of the things you think you're supposed to do may not even need to be done. Just don't think you can do them all at the same time, because you can't.

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