Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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About Multitasking

There are tons of articles for and against multitasking.  This one is against

The thing is, most of them miss the point.  A majority of what people call multitasking isn't actually that.  It's task-switching, which is a different thing.  Choosing how to manage workload effectively requires a variety of skills.

* Tasks requiring high concentration benefit from large blocks of uninterrupted time.  The only thing they typically mix well with is long-running tasks that require only intermittent attention.  I can write and do laundry or cook in the crockpot at the same time, because it benefits me to get up and stretch occasionally so my butt does not weld itself to the seat.  I cannot write with someone pestering me to do something every 5-10 minutes, but people in my life generally know not to do this, on pain of me biting their head off somewhere around the third interruption.

* Tasks that are incompatible but supportive are well worth alternating if that improves productivity.  I cannot read and write at the same time. But when I feel like crap, I can grind out an entire article by writing a paragraph and then reading a page of something pleasant, whereas I cannot write straight through in that condition.  I have done this and sold the results and gotten compliments on it.  I do something similar in taking breaks between segments of a larger project, which works in a much wider range of circumstances.  This is task-switching done right, to recharge.

* Tasks with flexible priority may be compatible.  Stay-at-home parents are pretty much always doing childcare plus something else.  If the child starts crying while you are loading the sink, you focus more on the child; if sink begins to overflow, you go shut off the water.  There's an element of task-switching involved, but mostly what you're doing is juggling the priorities between two ongoing projects, simply shifting different amounts of attention and hands between them.

* Tasks that require different types  of attention or body parts may be fully stackable and even support each other.  Yardwork = exercise.  Reviewing a high-energy music album is actually easier if I am attempting to do housework while it plays, because then I can gauge its effect on my productivity level.  This is the truest type of multitasking, and it works great, but it has limited applications because there are not a lot of common combinations, especially in modern life.

Know your tasks, your time, your energy, and yourself.  Pay attention to what works and what doesn't.  Articles are useful, but they are rarely complete.
Tags: how to, news
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