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The Multitasking Myth

"You are one of the best multitaskers I have ever seen!"

Because some people believe that I get lots of work done, this statement has been made to me a time or two over the years.

The trouble is, anyone who has said that is dead wrong! In fact, I know I'd be so bad at multitasking that I never have even given it a try. Still, my level or production or output of work is pretty high. How does that happen? The trick lies in focus and priority.

First, let's take a peek at multitasking. Take any two mental 'jobs' you can think of. How about creating a tricky spreadsheet and preparing to give a presentation? Or what about reading a manual about how to fix a washing machine and writing an opinion article for the local paper? It just doesn't stand to reason that you can effectively do any of these mental tasks well at the exact same time. Can someone mentally process how the electricity is sent to the washing machine motor and at the very same time determine an appropriate IF/THEN statement in a complex spreadsheet? Probably not. To execute either of these tasks successfully and give each of them the mental focus they need, we probably need to do them one at a time. There is no way (at least for most of us) to effectively 'multitask' our way through efforts like these.

So how can we get them all done? And how can we get them done quickly and correctly? Prioritize and focus! At least it works for me. Here is the process...

As my day gets started, I start to identify and determine the tasks that need to be done for the day. Then, those tasks start to fall into a mental list of things that are most-to-least important to get done. If something comes along during the day that needs to get done, it is slotted into the mental list - higher if it is important and lower if it is not. Sometimes when the list gets too long, I have to write the whole thing down. We all know... this is prioritizing. Everyone can do this but not everyone does. To get lots done, prioritizing needs to be done every day!

Next comes focus. The key here is to achieve a very high level of mental dedication to the items on the list. Without sacrificing quality (always a potential issue), the greater the attention given to the list, the greater the outcome.

People achieve this high level of focus differently. Personally, I try to give myself some time in the morning - before most people get up and around to get an hour or two of uninterrupted time to focus on my list. After completing one task on the list I move immediately to the next one. No checking email or social media... no getting up for that second cup of coffee... just disciplined, uninterrupted focus on one task right after the other.

Sure, sometimes I don't get a certain item done before something happens that forces me to move onto something else. I now have two unfinished tasks. Some may call this multitasking. But I just line the unfinished task in the later in the mental queue and get to it when it's time comes.

In the end, I'm not sure I have ever really done two tough tasks at once. I've probably never truly multitasked! But if I can prioritize my work and crank out one solution right after another with great focus I can still get a lot done. And, in the process someone may mistake me for being a good multitasker!