Why Multitasking Has a Bad Rap and 12 Tips for Using It

Multitasking seems to have picked up a bad rap in the last several years. But like everything else, it is possible to use it for good!

When I hear someone say something like (just one example from many to choose from):

Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is rarely effective and almost never leads to increased productivity. Whenever possible choose a task, take it to completion, and then move on to the next one.

I always want to ask: Do you know a mother?

If I have a pile of laundry to complete, a load of dishes to wash, a living room to clean up, a child to teach, an appointment to make, a floor to vacuum, a meal to cook, and a bill to pay — I’d better find a way to do more than one thing at a time — or none of those things will be done by the end of the day.

Take laundry. Do I choose that task, and take it to completion before doing my dishes?

Or do I straighten up the living room completely before starting dinner? (Um, you are not eating tonight….)

Granted, this can become a matter of semantics — but words do matter. When people these days denigrate multitasking what they frequently mean is one of two things — either don’t start one project before you finish the next, or don’t use your i-device while talking to your child.

No one is going to debate the correctness of those considerations — particularly looking people in the eye while speaking to them.

You will also find that we change the terminology to task-switching and claim it as a wonderful productivity find, while multitasking has fallen out of favor.

When I talk about multitasking, I’m referring to having more than one task going at once. I’m talking about accomplishing more in a day — specifically more different types of things in one day.

In this vein, it is OK to start the laundry, rotate to going over the phonograms with my child, running back to the laundry to keep it going, paying the bill, folding the clothes, starting the dinner, cleaning the living room, back to the dinner, etc.

By the end of the day — I’ve completed all that I have set out to complete.

Another sense — it is OK to start my crochet project — even if I only can spend 15 minutes each day working it. If I wait until I’m done with my big project (educating my children) my fingers will likely be too arthritic! (Yes, I’m pushing the point here.)

Additionally, while some areas of study can be covered at one time by the entire family, when educating children at home, it is essential to get one child going, then move on to one-on-one time with the next, before rotating back.

Finally, there is the type of multitasking that keeps us fresh, interested, interesting, and fulfilled people. The type of multitasking where you take a break to read (how do you write output without input?), or take a break from a project to walk (keeping your fitness level up). We all benefit from a change of pace throughout the day.

Granted there are people who are going to be more comfortable moving through life in a more direct way. Perhaps for those people multitasking would be too distracting. But there are also people who effectively use multitasking every day to push things forward.

12 Tips for Effectively Multitasking

  • Know what type of person you are. Is the thought of having several things going at once stressful? Don’t!
  • Avoid distractions. Sometimes we are multitasking the wrong things!
  • Make lists. Some of us will find it too easy to drop the ball if we have more than one thing going at once. A list will help us keep tabs on all of our projects, and encourage follow-through.
  • Set goals. Know what you want to accomplish in a day ahead of time.
  • Set an order. Knowing in advance which things you want to accomplish in which order will help you stay focused.
  • Keep it short. Nothing can stress a person out quicker than planning to get far more done in one day than is possible!
  • Avoid the tyranny of the urgent. If the urgent rules, then you will be more likely to take on too much. Add those “urgent” needs to the list. Some may take a higher position; others will look less urgent in comparison to tasks already on the list.
  • Include downtime. To avoid burnout, it is important to take time to relax, regroup, and enjoy some task-free time.
  • Play the train game. If your train had to pick up and deliver loads in various locations, you would be pretty careful to group things in the same location together to save time. Likewise, if you group similar or geographically related tasks together, you will find getting them done a smoother experience.
  • Delegate. Hey, delegating counts as getting something done!
  • Be deliberate. Some multitaskers run into trouble by continuously adding to their load much like a juggler throwing too many plates up in the air. Multitasking isn’t an excuse for compulsive pile-on!
  • Stay creative. For some, a focus on tasks comes at the price of reduced creativity. Schedule in blocks to make sure that creative time happens. Or it might work better for some to hit those top three items on the list (work), and then play.

Yes. Look your child in the eye when you are speaking to him.

Yes. Finish what you start.

But, please. Enough multitasking bashing. Like everything else, it CAN be used for good!

Additional Resources

Smart Scheduling
Lots of ways to get it done!

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