The concept of multi-tasking has gotten a bum rap. Articles such as this one are tell us that we are not as effective when we multi-task. We are being told to slow down, focus on one thing at a time, and not over-commit ourselves. That’s great advice–but it’s harder for some to implement than you think. What if your personality is one that thrives on having several things going at once and being fast paced?
As a seasoned multi-tasker (seasoned meaning I’ve been doing it for a long time, not that it is always succcessful for me) I am challenged by this new wave of thinking (some call it “uni-tasking.”) However, I have my doubts that swinging the time management pendulum from one extreme to the other is the best way to go. I think there is a middle-ground that can be a healthy place.
The idea of multi-tasking is to have several things going on at once. The idea of single, or uni, tasking is to focus on one thing at a time. Let me pitch to you a compromise: complementary multi-tasking. This approach embraces doing two (or possibly more) things at once, but being intentional that they complement each other, not distract from one another. Common sense and safety are key components of this idea.
When you are planning your “to-do” list, ask yourself the following questions to see if you can apply complementary multi-tasking to your list. (For the sake of simplicity, we will consider planning two complementary tasks, although sometimes you could plan three or more.)
1. Are there two tasks that can be done in the same general vicinity? For example, making sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch while waiting for water to boil for tonight’s spaghetti works better than leaving the kitchen to check email in another room.
2. Is one task relatively hands-off and one hands-on? While a new software program is downloading, I can organize one drawer in my desk.
3. Can two things be going simultaneously, safely? My laundry can be drying while I work on a blog post.
4. Could I mix a mindless “task” opportunity with a “people” opportunity? With the help of a phone earpiece, I can fold laundry while talking to a friend, which would be better than trying to answer email while also talking with her on the phone.
5. Will doing these two tasks at the same time add cause more mental fatigue or less? Listening to a podcast or some music while cooking may help pass the time nicely, while trying to help your child with homework while also preparing a meal can become frustrating for both of you.
So before jumping on the bandwagon that all multi-tasking is ineffective or wrong, consider that complementary multi-tasking may be the way to accomplish two important tasks without driving yourself crazy.
Question: What are two tasks that you can do at the same time without misusing the idea of multi-tasking? Join the conversation by commenting!