Unmasked: The Myth of Multi-tasking

Unmasked: The Myth of Multi-tasking

You CAN do two things at one, as long as you don’t care about quality. I’ve long preached that the secret of good writing is not trying to write and edit at the same time. Write first, edit later. And that goes whether you’re writing advertising copy or code. Your brain has to get in the zone.

Juggling multiple client projects never used to bother me. But as I get older (and hopefully a little wiser) I find that I really prefer to start one project and see it through to the end before tackling another. It just seems to go faster and work better.

Well, it’s not just me. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience confirmed what many of us suspected. It takes your brain four times longer to get re-focused, back in the zone, when it’s switching back and forth between tasks. Makes sense.

Organizing and productivity guru Julie Morgenstern talked about it in her most recent e-newsletter:

“Once thought to be a critical time management skill, multi-tasking has been scientifically proven to impair memory, increase stress, and make us LESS productive…

“Multi-tasking does not bring out our best selves. Instead, it leaves us feeling exhausted, ineffective, and ultimately, deeply unsatisfied.”

Morgenstern goes on to suggest making a time map — basically just a simplified schedule — so you have a certain time to do this, and another time to do that. She says it eliminates your need to multi-task, and puts you back in control of your days.

“It’s a tool I’ve been teaching for years—but which used to generate mixed reactions in audiences. Lately, everyone LOVES the concept—the Time Map is a tool whose time has clearly come.” Julie Morgenstern

What about you? Do you prefer doing many things at once? Or having a one-track mind? Which way is most productive for you? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

  1. MrVisibleMrVisible05-19-2006

    For me, I guess it depends on the task. The more boring parts of my workload are made tolerable by multitasking. If it’s not enough to take up my full brain capacity, then a project gets interspersed with email, other little projects, and of course, the inevitable random surfing.

    Right now, for instance, I’m researching scholarships.

  2. TamarTamar08-28-2006

    For years I was a multi-tasker, but since I’ve been caught up recently with who I am now that I am a Third Ager, I can really identify with your comment about slowing down as you get older. Thanks for mentioning it openly.

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