Multitasking is REAL. I do it all the time: I text while I walk (which I know can be annoying at best and dangerous at worst). I watch TV while I fold laundry. And I scroll through news stories while I cook. Even at work, I catch myself bouncing from one tab to the next, doing a little bit here and a little bit there.
Sometimes I’m proud of my ability to multitask, but sometimes I feel like I’m wasting my time. A few weeks ago I found myself wondering: Is multitasking a good thing or a bad thing?
Almost all job descriptions say the ability to multitask is a must. So it can’t be all that bad, right? But there are more articles than I can count telling me to just quit it: Multitasking is actually stressing you out, one article said. “You make mistakes!,” another berated. And one article told me I’m not actually multitasking, I’m task-switching and losing out on efficiencies! Ugh! I love efficiencies.
My “come to Jesus” moment
At Proof, we work at home Tuesdays and Thursdays. We call it “head down time,” or that much-needed time to have uninterrupted hours-on-end to crank out that complicated task you’ve been avoiding all week. (You know exactly what I’m talking about.)
Before working at Proof, I worked at home all the time, so it didn’t matter when I did what project, as long as it was done by the deadline. Now that I work with a (kickass) team in person, I want to work on collaborative projects in the office and save my individual work for work-at-home days. All of a sudden, my multitasking habit seemed to be getting more in my way than helping.
By the time I’d be working at home, I’d have two or three big things to get done that day, not a dozen small things to bounce between. I decided to experiment and learn how to focus. After a few weird days of feeling a little lost, I got my groove. I started making a checklist in the morning and started checking things off one by one, instead of bouncing between all of them throughout the day.
I employed some useful tips from our project manager about calendar blocking, and blocking time for personal things. At our Vision Quest this year (think: company retreat without the trust falls), Patrick recommended we block 10 minutes here and there throughout the day to check personal email or respond to personal texts. Since the time would already be set aside, it’d be easier to leave the phone alone while doing other things.
Another trick I started using is telling my team on Slack what I’ll be working on in the morning and saying I’ll update them when I’m finished. This helps me hold myself accountable. Even if they couldn’t care less, I’ve vocalized a short term goal, and I needed to stick to it!
I can’t tell you for sure if I’ve gotten more productive, but I can tell you I feel happier. No matter who you are, it feels good to say you’re going to do something and then deliver it. When you’re not task-switching, you get this satisfying feeling more often.
I still “task-switch,” like any warm-blooded human, but now it’s way more of a conscious decision. Sometimes you just need to work on something else for a little while, or walk away from a project to come back refreshed. The big difference for me now, after my head-down “experiment,” is that I’m being thoughtful about my choices, and I find myself bouncing between my tabs less and less.