The Myth of Multitasking

I'm a pretty busy person.  I work full time.  I pastor a church part-time.  I have a big yard I keep up.  A wife and two daughters.  A couple dogs.  And I write quite a bit (and not just sermons).  I have plenty to do.  I get asked every once in awhile how I manage that. 

I used to pride myself in the ability to do numerous things all at once.  I was a skilled practitioner of multitasking.  I made my calls during drive time to and from work.  I could answer texts during staff meetings.  I'd keep right on working on a spreadsheet while I was on a group call.  And I'd jump from project to project during the day making progress on each project every single day.  

And then one day, harried and exhausted, I realized that multitasking was a myth.  It didn't make me more productive, it made me less productive.  I'd miss important details in a meeting because I was texting during that part.  I'd forget something I was supposed to do from a call because I was driving at the time and didn't write it down.  I found that jumping from project to project just meant I spent a great deal of time remembering where I left off the day before so I could make a little more progress that day.  And while it looked like I'd gotten a lot done in a day, what I began to realize was that a lot of what I'd done wasn't my best work.  Multitasking is a great opportunity to do many things poorly rather than to do one or two things extremely well.

It sounds counterintuitive to our culture today, but I do one thing at a time now.  I sit down and make my calls interrupted.  I pay attention in meetings and take notes so I don't wind up missing important details.  I check emails once or twice a day, not continuously.  I actually turn my phone off and check it periodically rather than constantly.  Most importantly, I do only one thing at a time now, and I work at a pace that allows me to do my best work on each task.  

You're probably thinking my productivity is half of what it was before.  You'd be wrong, and study after study would prove me out on this.  It's actually increased my productivity, because I finish tasks.  I don't miss details that cost me time.  I'm not in a huge rush, and I'm not exhausted by the end of the day because I'm working at a comfortable pace for a human being.  I focus on one target at a time.  I think rifle instead of shotgun now. 

We only have so much attention span, and the more we divide it, the thinner our attention is on each ball we have in the air.  When you slow down and focus on one thing at a time, you'll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish.  How much more time you have when you're not touching your phone ten times an hour, or stopping to respond to a text, or answer an email.  

Multitasking divides your attention, and divides your focus, and while it makes you busier it doesn't make you efficient.  Just tired. 

Try it for a few days and see if you don't agree.  One thing at a time and do it to the best of ability.  You'll never go back to multitasking . . .

~Todd E. Creason


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