The Lost Art of Focus: Multi-tasking vs. Mono-tasking

October 12, 2009 by  

Multitasking

Further research continues to indicate that focusing on more than one task at a time actually decreases productivity and may jeopardize the fundamental quality of our work and communication. But this data seems to contradict what many people hold as the vision of a fully engaged and adapted 21st century worker.

The people who engage in media “multitasking” are those least able to do so well, according to researchers. This recent BBC article examines the results of a study done at Stanford University.

And this NPR radio segment also highlights some enlightening research into multi-tasking.

But in today’s workplace, and even just in our day to day lives in the information age, a certain amount of multi-tasking is unavoidable. So it seems the skill to develop is knowing when, where, and what to multi-task. Ali Hale weighs in with what I feel is a reasonable and well thought out opinion in her article ‘Multi-Tasking vs. Mono-Tasking’:

So how do you know when you should “multi-task” and when you should “mono-task”? And how do you manage to do the latter? Some things lend themselves brilliantly to multi-tasking. These tend to be activities which are purely physical, or which by their nature take a set amount of time to complete – however well you focus.

All of this has given me food for thought – as I am a person who is prone to multi-tasking and have convinced myself that I am pretty good at the juggling routine. In fact, I half-jokingly said to my brother just the other day, ‘I’ve got to focus, no more multi-tasking, from now on I’m only going to do two or three things at a time.’

So, here’s a little eye-opening challenge if you feel the same way: try this online game called MULTITASK and see if it might start to change your opinion.

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  • Phil,

    Thanks so much for the great blog post and links to other excellent resources on how to actually be productive in this digital age.

    I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated as I’ve struggled to actually do “stuff” rather than just “keep stuff” up in the air.

    One thing that helps with me is when I start off my day w/ 10 minutes of planning and ask myself – what are the 3 items I NEED to today and then set aside time throughout the day to actually tackle them in a focused manner.

    Everett
    http://twitter.com/flexperformance
    http://www.flexibleperformance.com

  • Phil,

    Thanks so much for the great blog post and links to other excellent resources on how to actually be productive in this digital age.

    I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated as I’ve struggled to actually do “stuff” rather than just “keep stuff” up in the air.

    One thing that helps with me is when I start off my day w/ 10 minutes of planning and ask myself – what are the 3 items I NEED to today and then set aside time throughout the day to actually tackle them in a focused manner.

    Everett
    http://twitter.com/flexperformance
    http://www.flexibleperformance.com

    • Hey Everett, we really appreciate your input on this post. it is amazing how effective a simple strategy like the one you suggest can be. we have discovered time and again that although technology is central to distributed work, it is often time management, communication guidelines, measurable objectives, the ability to prioritize, and other ‘non-technical’ strategies that are the real cornerstone of effective virtual teamwork.

      Thanks for commenting, I enjoyed the post on your blog, The Technical and Human Challenges of Telecommuting and Working in a Virtual Team, which addressed some of the same topics.

  • Phil,

    Thanks so much for the great blog post and links to other excellent resources on how to actually be productive in this digital age.

    I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated as I’ve struggled to actually do “stuff” rather than just “keep stuff” up in the air.

    One thing that helps with me is when I start off my day w/ 10 minutes of planning and ask myself – what are the 3 items I NEED to today and then set aside time throughout the day to actually tackle them in a focused manner.

    Everett
    http://twitter.com/flexperformance
    http://www.flexibleperformance.com

    • Hey Everett, we really appreciate your input on this post. it is amazing how effective a simple strategy like the one you suggest can be. we have discovered time and again that although technology is central to distributed work, it is often time management, communication guidelines, measurable objectives, the ability to prioritize, and other ‘non-technical’ strategies that are the real cornerstone of effective virtual teamwork.

      Thanks for commenting, I enjoyed the post on your blog, The Technical and Human Challenges of Telecommuting and Working in a Virtual Team, which addressed some of the same topics.