Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Do You Multitask?

Last night I read an interesting, albeit older article from International Herald Tribune "A Warning On The Limits Of Multitasking"

Some of us, one could say most of us, think that juggling several tasks at the same time makes us more productive. After all, teenagers do that all the time, like my youngest son, he does his homework, IMs several friends and listens to the music, all at the same time. That makes him very productive, right?

Not quite. Recent studies indicate unequivocally that cramming too many tasks into a short time frame not only increases the total task duration, but also compromises the quality of the results. The clear recommendation is to turn off that tv, change radio station from songs with lyrics to soothing background sounds, forget IM and don't answer email.

"Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes," said David Mayer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. "Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information."

Rene Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University says that a core limitation of our brain is its inability to concentrate on two things or more at once.

It does, therefore, make sense to do several simple things to increase your productivity:

  • Turn off the sound that your computer makes when a new email arrives, turn off that visual clue in the lower right corner announcing new email message. Here's how to do it:
    1. On the Tools menu, click Options.
    2. On the Preferences tab, click E-mail Options, and then click Advanced E-mail Options.
    3. Under When new items arrive in my Inbox, clear the Display a New Mail Desktop Alert (default Inbox only) check box.
    4. If you want to, you can suppress other notifications such as playing sounds, changing the mouse pointer, or displaying an envelope icon in the notification area. To do this clear the Play a sound, Briefly change the mouse cursor, or Show an envelope icon in the notification area check box, respectively.
  • Check emails only infrequently, say at the top of each hour. Then either act on them right away, delete them, delegate them to somebody else, or mark them as Deferred or Archived.
  • Make your status as Do Not Disturbed on the Office Communicator for most of the day, make yourself available only, say, in the mornings and in the afternoons.
  • Focus all of your energies on the task before you. Define what that task is (your Next Action), then stay focused until the task is done.
  • Keep a journal of your tasks and activities, organize it so that it makes sense to you. You can do it either on paper or on the wiki.
  • If you don't know how to start a journal, get a stack of 3 x 5 index cards and write down what's on your mind. The purpose is to get things out of your mind and on the paper, so you can focus your thoughts on what needs to be done now. In the meantime, start organizing your index cards. They will reveal the structure of your journal when you're ready to start it.

For more information follow these links:

  1. 43 Folders - Blog and a family of web sites by a productivity guru Merlin Mann.
  2. The Bumble Bee - Ken Thompson's blog about team productivity and our innate connections with the biological world.
  3. What's The Next Action - A weblog about Getting Things Done
  4. Zen Habits - A blog about simple productivity
  5. David Allen's Company Podcasts - The official David Allen Company podcast designed to help you win at the game of work and business of life.

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