Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The multitasking myth

I once had an employee who had behaviors that very closely resembled a dog my husband owned growing up. The dog, Benji, could get his chain hung up on the tiniest stick in the yard. Once he was hooked, he was helpless. My little assistant was the same way. She just couldn't see how to work to get her tasks finished. If she got stuck on one chore, she might spend the rest of the day howling about it. The end result: She was always running behind and never understood why she failed.

It's not about multitasking. I've never agreed with the premise that you can do several things at once and be awesome at all of them. Think of it this way: How would you feel if you were in the phone with your mom and she was typing an e-mail, cooking dinner, and watching TV while you're trying to explain what you really want to do with your life?

No, I don't think anyone really multitasks effectively. That said, in my effort to organize this month I have been reflecting on simul-tasking. You know, working on several things in a row. Same as multitasking, right? Wrong.

Here's the difference. Working most effectively for me means being able to prioritize tasks on several projects. Mothers everywhere know this drill. Start the water boiling for pasta. Put the baby in her high chair. Thaw the meat. Get a drink for the oldest. Fill the baby's tray with finger foods. Add the pasta. Somewhere in there, you manage to feed two kids and prepare a dinner (probably while doing six or seven other tasks). It's just a matter of taking little steps on each project every day to make it work.

So before I let myself become consumed by any of my tasks, I try to focus on moving all of my projects forward every day. That way I feel like I'm making progress on all fronts—and I don't let my world fall apart anytime a stick crosses my path.

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