Multi-tasking is for Procrastinators

One with the Rock

One with the Rock

Speed has been the mantra of the business revolution since the 1990’s. Do more and do it faster is the way to personal and business success right? What better way to accomplish many things than to just do them all at once. We talk on mobile phones while we drive, eat while we are walking, listen to audio books while we run. There is nothing wrong with that type of multi-tasking, right?

Many of us juggle multiple projects and tasks thinking that we are getting more done. In fact, many people are proud of their multi-tasking prowess. Doing more things shows that we are more successful and important. The problem is that doing more things reduces the quality and quantity of each individual task. There are inherent costs of multi-tasking;

Switching costs
Every time you switch to another project you have to re-acquaint yourself with the work previously done and catch up on where you left off. For more complicated projects like writing, programming and legal work these switching costs can be very pronounced. It can take an hour or more to catch up on previous work.

Costs of Delayed Revenue
One completed project that you can bill for or can start earning revenue from means cash in your pocket faster. For example, imagine you are working on 4 projects at once and all take an equal time to complete. If each project takes four weeks to complete, after 16 weeks all will be completed if multi-tasking. Only after the full 16 weeks will you start earning money.

Now consider if you focused on one project and finished it in 4 weeks. That means that you can start making some revenues or bill for the first project after only 4 weeks, instead of 16. If this is recurring income, in this four project example, it would mean a total of 24 extra weeks of income that you wouldn’t have earned if you were multi-tasking.

Costs of Depression
It can be very hard to maintain levels of motivation when working on too many different projects. It can seem like nothing is progressing and that the work is impossible to complete. Completion of projects and individual tasks is self-motivating. The more you finish, the more you want to finish. The converse is also true, the less you finish the less you want to finish. All the projects and tasks can seem insurmountable if there are too many.

Costs of Lack of Focus
Putting all of your energies into one project encourages all your attention and ideas on a single project. You creativity will be enhanced because you will be thinking about this one and only one project. It is impossible to dedicate this much mental energy to a specific project if you are working on many things at once. Try reading a book while you are watching TV, chances are you will not be fully engaged in either and will miss out on both. Your thinking doesn’t stop when you stop working. Knowledge workers cannot turn off their brains when they are not working, ideas and insights come at all hours. If you are working on a single project, your mind will be focused on solutions and opportunities at all times. You will likely come up with insights and improvements to the project, even when it is not the focus of your attention. Some people are most creative in the shower, others when they are exercising. Your subconscious will help you discover solutions to your problems, provided it is not overwhelmed with too many things.

Costs of lack of quality
If you are doing many things at once, you cannot possible do everything at such a high quality. Top performance needs focus. Top athletes and musicians understand this. They can’t deliver peak performances if they are thinking about what they are going to eat for dinner, and the shopping they need to do. World class performances in any area require intense focus. The same is true for your work.

Cut off distractions and focus on completing one thing at a time. Once you are finished the most important task or project, go to the next one. Multi-tasking is not productive.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

One Response to Multi-tasking is for Procrastinators

  1. Neil Mullens says:

    I agree. Anyone who uses any software program intermittently will tell you that it can take time to get back up to full production speed.

    Re. Costs of Delayed Revenue. Actually, the lost weeks of revenue are likely to be even greater because, as you said, the time it takes to complete a single project will be less than when you are multi-tasking. Therefore the four projects should be completed and making money prior to the 16 weeks necessary for a multi-tasking approach.

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