May 10, 2010, 5:00 am

Multitasking or Productivity?

by: The Financial Blogger    Category: Business,Career
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I have read several articles about multitasking and many others about productivity. The funny thing is, while we pursue our quest to do 10 things simultaneously, many people think that we become unproductive as a result.

Take the Blackberry for example. I would not be surprised if Ph.Ds are being written at the moment on the basis of how unproductive managers have become due to their Blackberrys. There is a theory that states if you do too many things at the same time, you paralyze your brain and therefore, get less done in your day.

You just have to picture your brain as a computer. If you run too many programs, your virtual memory is fully used and your computer starts to lag. I guess this is the same thing with your brain. If you do/think too many things at the same time, your brain slows down since it has too much stuff to process at the same time. Then, it drops the ball for some tasks and you start forgetting stuff or not properly completing your task at hand.

The key is to find a balance between the number of tasks worked on at the same time and the level of concentration required to do them.

Example: at work, I spend most of my time on the phone and answering my emails at the same time. There are tons of emails that require minimal attention and can be answered with a sentence. However, when I get to a longer email that will require my full attention, I close it right away (without reading it) and postpone my answer. Since I am on the phone (remember ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), I had better concentrate on the discussion and use my peripheral senses for the routine email answering tasks.

Instead of trying to do several things at once, I prefer identifying moments in my day where I am wasting time. For example, I blog in the bus while going to work. I could sleep, listen to music, people watch or read a book during this time. Yet, I would rather work on a โ€œmoney creationโ€ activity instead of wasting 30 to 45 minutes every morning and afternoon.

I also check my email and answer them while Iโ€™m in the metro. I spend an additional 10-15 minutes twice a day in public transportation; what is the point of looking at other people to see how badly they are dressed?

In the end, what I am trying to do is to use the Pareto Principle combined with multitasking not to do more things, but to become more productive. I think this is where many people make a mistake; they try to work on all tasks everyday while you could really leverage when you are more productive.

Have people do things for you (delegate ;-D ), make your computer do other things and leave the important stuff for yourself to complete ๐Ÿ˜‰

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I agree that those idle moments (i.e. on the bus) are great moments to take advantage of; however, I take the metro where there is no reception ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve read a study that says that we lose efficiency when trying to do more than two tasks at the same time, and even at doing two we will not be as good as doing one (hence why using a cell phone while driving is usually frowned upon). I don’t personally believe in multitasking; instead, I do things the “stackless python” way: find which tasks you need to do, spend some time on them, then move on to the next thing. I find it’s a lot more efficient to do things that way rather than have several things open at the same time.

What is the point of looking at other people to see how badly they are dressed? ๐Ÿ˜€ pouhahahaha! This is so damn right!

I believe that productivity and multitasking can get along if you know your limits before your brain’s blue screen… a fatal error has occured, press ctrl+alt+del to restart. All unsaved data will be lost… damn’!

And this limits is different from one to another, so when you hit yours, remember it! I did and now am better to manage productivity AND multitasking.

Just a question: internet access in the metro? with wich company? because I was considering using my 40 min morning metro ride to write on my blog, but internet access was my concern…

by: The Financial Blogger | May 10th, 2010 (4:03 pm)

this is where you get the advantage of working with your Blackberry, you send all your emails and as soon as you get a signal, it sends everything ๐Ÿ˜‰

@Mama Zen,
I love the analogy of the blue screen of death!

I do all my writing in the bus but I save everything in a Word document (which is being sent for correction and then published ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Blue screens… yack!

Now I am on Mac, these blue screens are just bad memories… ๐Ÿ˜‰

I think I’ll consider the writing in the metro option because sometimes I feel very frustrated when I cannot write when I want. Next step: make sure I had my 2 coffees before ! I would be better on my way back home (I am not exacly an ยซearly birdยป), but the metro is so crowded that would be impossible…

I will definetely give it a try!

by: The Financial Blogger | May 11th, 2010 (4:14 am)

You’ll need a tape recorder instead if the metro is too crowded! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Multitasking is false productivity. Everything takes longer when we multitask.

Example: Task A takes 1 hour, Task B takes 1hour.

When you do them one at a time then task A is done in 1 hour, task B is done in 2 hours.

When you do them both together, even without the waste coming from task switching, then both are done in 2 hours. The only thing you accomplished is delaying Task A.

Never multitask!

@TFB: soon I’ll have an iPhone so this problem will be solved ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I wrote something I am quite satisfied of this morning… but my laptop is kinda big to be used in the metro…

@Goal Hunter
I disaggre… just think about the critical path technique (much used technique in project management). As an example, TFB said while he was in the bus, he wrote stuff for his blog. Instead of spending 40 min in the bus doing noting then 40 min on an article for a total of 80 min, he did both together and saved 40 min.

The point is, if you want to multitask efficiently, mix task that CAN be done in the same time. If you are unable to handle a phone conversation and answer an email at the same time, then don’t do it because it will be more efficient to do these task separately. But if you can, why not? To make multitasking productive, you have to select and plan carefull what are the task that are doable that way.

Anyways, some people are good at it and some don’t, so you have to learn your limit too… if you don’t you’ll face the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH ๐Ÿ˜€

by: The Financial Blogger | May 12th, 2010 (1:32 pm)

@ MamaZen,

Amen, I couldn’t explain my point any better.

I truly beleive that the right match of tasks (one that doesn’t use your brain but needs to be done with one that can be done in the meantime by using your brain) should be the goal of an effective multitasking…. I should write a book about this ๐Ÿ˜‰


You’re absolutely right, but I don’t consider sitting on the bus as a task! Doing nothing on the bus is just doing nothing.

What I mean is that if you take one resource and keep it busy, multitasking will never get anything done any faster. For sure the benefits of multitasking come if you can’t keep the resource busy, like an idle brain and hands on the bus.

It’s a little bit subtle because many bosses (mine it seems) think that I actually can do 5 things at once. He wants me to have several tasks on the go, but that just means each one takes a long time. But, he sees progress on each one each week so he’s somewhat happy.

Many project managers think they can share resources across multiple projects. This works only if the resource would have been idle on the first project during the time it worked on another project.

by: The Financial Blogger | May 13th, 2010 (7:42 am)

@Goal Hunter,

I agree with you that doing too many tasks requiring the same level of concentration at the same time is totally stupid. However, it seems to look good when you tell your boss that you work on 4 different projects at the same time… oh well, I hope someday, managers will also look at productivity data ! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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