The Myth of Multitasking (Kill It!) – M.Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanMoving on to chapter 18 of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), we continue to be instructed in how to reduce the daily tasks that call for our attention so that we can do our best work next and be the most productive stewards of what God calls us to do.

Chapter 18 is titled “Harnessing the Time Killers” and here author Matt Perman treats the second aspect of reducing (the fifth main section of the book), which he states is “overcoming and eliminating the things that eat up our time and get in our way” (p.241). The first thing he suggests may surprise and shock you, as it did me. He calls us to kill multitasking. Yes, KILL it! Here’s why:

To multitask is to do two or more things at once that require mental focus. Multitasking seems like a way to save time but actually costs more time and is, in fact, impossible. It is inefficient because it makes both tasks take longer (p.241).

…But it is also impossible because you cannot literally multitask. …The human brain simply cannot focus on two things at once. God is the only multitasker.

When I think about that, and then think about the times I have tried to multitask, I find that Perman (and other experts) is correct – I am not really doing multiple things at once – not with real, good focus!

So what are we actually doing when we think we are multitasking? We are actually switchtasking. That is, we are switching back and forth between tasks. As a result, multitasking (or, better, switchtasking) incurs switching costs.

And as Perman goes on to show, sometimes the cost of switching tasks is worth it and more efficient, but other times it is not:

With some tasks, the switching cost might be worth it. Switching costs aren’t always bad; we just have to take them into account.

With multitasking, however, the issue is that the switching cost can almost always be avoided. You don’t have to write that report while checking email every five minutes. It would be much more efficient and effective to spend an hour writing the report, then check email (or take a break, or whatever).

And so he concludes:

This helps us see when switchtasking can be beneficial, though: if an interruption comes, quickly assess whether the value of the interruption will be greater than the time and focus you will lose on your current task. If it’s significantly greater, go ahead (p.242).

I find this very helpful in helping me harness the time killers! What about you? How good are you at switchtasking? Have you weighed the costs?

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