Why Multitasking is Impossible and How To Become Really Good at Faking It
In today’s working environment, virtually everyone is asked to do multiple things at once. Stop for a minute and think about it. How many tasks do you have on your plate right now? Two? Five? Twenty? I bet your answer isn’t “One”.
The problem is true multitasking is impossible! Have you ever tried to attend two conference calls at the same time? (Come on, admit it, everyone has tried to pull this off at least once!) It just simply can’t be done. When you try to do two things at once, you almost certainly end up missing bits and pieces of each individual task.
If you actually think you can do two, let alone three or four things at the same time, you are fooling yourself; and your productivity is suffering because if it. That’s bad news, but the good news is that you can still give the illusion of having many balls in the air while keeping your stress levels down and impressing your manager.
The key to becoming a multitasking ninja is to change your mindset. While multitasking is the act of doing multiple things at the same time. Multiplexing is the act of breaking tasks into multiple bite size chunks and working them individually until the sum of the tasks is complete.
So, take the word “Multitasking” out of your vocabulary. It’s like a four letter word that only leads to stress and subpar results. Multiplexing is the solution. It’s not just a word. Its a mindset, an approach and a discipline.
So how do you do it?
Take your massive pile of work and split it up! This can take a little practice if you aren’t doing it already, but try to break your work down into individual pieces that can be completed independently. Let’s call these chunks subtasks.
You’ll know that you have a good set of subtasks when you can look at them and not break them down any further. If you look at a subtask and it contains the words “then” or “and”, try to break it down even further. The smaller the subtask, the better.
Next, take all your subtasks and figure out which ones are critical. Your definition of critical could be subtasks that need to be completed today, or subtasks that need to be completed in the next hour. You can also complete the subtasks that unblock other subtasks or unblock other people from doing their work.
Pro Tip: There is nothing more stressful than knowing that coworkers are waiting on you to get something done. If you can tackle those “blockers” first, you might actually get some peace and quiet!
OK, now the critical stuff is out of the way. Doesn’t this feel better already? Now that nobody’s bothering you, you can focus on doing some stuff in whichever order you want. From my experience, i’ve found that mixing up the fun tasks with the eye bleeding painful stuff will allow you to get everything done without the emotional rollercoaster.
But hey, maybe that’s not how you want to do it. That’s cool. You can do these things your way. Maybe you prefer to get the annoying stuff done early and then have some fun later in the day. Maybe you prefer to put off the terrible subtasks till the very last minute and hate your life for while (not recommended). Either way, just know that you are getting stuff done and looking like a pro!
Every now and then it’s a good idea to take a step back and look at what subtasks are left in order mark something “done”. You may find that you can finally finish something if you just power through those last couple subtasks.
If you find yourself in this position, I would highly recommend prioritizing finishing something over anything else. Everyone loves when something is finished, so take the win and just get it done.
Last, but certainly not least, is my absolute favorite way to lighten your workload. Delegate! Delegating is not just for managers anymore. If you work in a team, it’s really important to take a look at your subtasks and ask one question: “Am I the right person to be doing this work?” If not, find the right person and let them take on the task.
This approach helps in two different ways and it is also a game of give and take. Naturally if you delegate subtasks to co-workers, you should expect that they will do the same in return. This is perfectly fine because hopefully everyone will end up with subtasks that they are either interested in doing or very efficient at completing. Delegating allows the team to complete work faster overall and everyone wins.
Quitting the multitasking rat race takes a little bit effort and discipline, but will absolutely affect your day-today. One word of caution: it can be very easy to slip back into old habits! Try to start your day, every day, by assessing your tasks, breaking them up and working them on subtask at a time. By reassessing daily, you can ensure the old habits wont sneak their way back into your routine.