Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Momma Told Me Not To Multitask

I turn on the computer. While checking my gmail, I log into my bank account to check on transactions, pay a bill, and transfer money to my sister. At the same time, I start working on some writing projects, respond to a couple emails on my work email, and call the pediatrician's office to schedule the kids' next round of checkups. While I'm holding with the doctor's office and responding to emails, I plug in the digital camera to start transferring the weekend's photos.

I switch back the bank account site to pay another bill I just remembered and to transfer that money to my sister, and the site has timed out after 10 minutes of inactivity, so I log back on. Right after entering my password, I open my gmail tab and see an interesting recipe in the subject line from one of my many recipe-a-day subscriptions. So, I click on the recipe. I decide to try it, so I grab a piece of paper and start jotting down a quick grocery list. Suddenly, I hear "Dr. Carlty's Office, this is Joan, may I help you."

I talk with Joan, while switching to my calendar view. I schedule two appointments. By now, though, Flower is needing attention so instead of entering the appointments into my calendar, I jot them down on a piece of paper while I wrangle her. After nursing Flower and getting her settled in her crib for a nap, I come back to the computer. I have about 4 writing project tasks that are half done, 3 emails half written, 2 appointments scheduled but not entered into the calendar, and my bank account site has timed out again.

This scenario was my life until I recently decided to try something new. I gave up multitasking.

Previously, I multitasked every time I did anything, including housework, errands, work tasks, family life, and more. When I did housework, I skittered around from one room to another, doing a little here and there but not really getting anything done. Now, I focus on one room, setting a time limit. To deep clean the kitchen from top to bottom might take a full 90 minutes. But, I don't have 90 minutes a day to spend in my kitchen; my kitchen does not need deep cleaned every day anyway! In about 20 minutes, though, I can get the dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down the counters. It might take a full hour to correctly put up all of Spark's toys, but in about 10 minutes, we can get the bulk of the mess controlled. It might not be perfectly organized, but it's controlled. Another 30 minutes of housework, and we can have the family room straightened up and vaccuumed and the bathroom wiped down. So, in one hour, our house can be reasonably together. Previously in one hour, nothing would be done. I would have stacks here and there and so on.

There's nothing wrong with multitasking, if it makes sense. For instance, I know that a call to my pediatrician's office is going to put me on hold for 10 minutes. That doesn't mean I have to sit with the phone to my ear while I lose 10 minutes of life to their public service announcements. Instead of trying to do real work while I'm on hold, though, I open my calendar, put the phone on speaker phone, get in the floor and play and giggle with Flower while we listen to the PSAs. Then, I schedule whatever appointment needs to be scheduled.

Instead of checking my gmail and doing my bank business at the same time, switching back and forth from tab to tab (a habit I'm sure increases eye strain and fatigue), I give 15 minutes of focused time to each task. In just a half hour, my gmail is under control, my bills are paid, my transactions checked, and my sister has that money I promised to transfer.

When I'm trying to get work tasks done, instead of working on three different tasks for an hour, I divide the tasks into chunks of time. I estimate that updating the status report will take 15 minutes, entering edits into documents will take 30, and responding to emails will take about 15 minutes. An hour later, I find those three big tasks are done, and I'm ready to move on to do something else!

When I first tried this technique, I hated it. I felt unproductive, like I wasn't really getting as much done. But after comparing two days: I see the difference. Giving up multitasking is incredibly freeing! Now, I focus on one task at a time, setting reasonable time limits and goals. A focus-driven life is the life for me.

No comments:

Parenting Blogs - Blog Top Sites