In this “need it right now!” society, multitasking has become a coveted skill. Employees and students alike are encouraged to manage several projects or assignments simultaneously. In the world of prioritization, however, there’s a fine line between efficient time management and total disorganization. In “Five Myths of Multitasking,” Kelly Eggers argues that multitasking as we know it might actually be detrimental to our careers.
It’s a familiar scenario. You have a major project with a hard deadline due at work, and you’ve made the decision to hunker down and get the job done. The thing is, few of us actually sit down and complete a required task from start to finish without interruption. Just as you make the decision to really focus on the task at hand, your email inbox is on fire with any number of “high priority” emails. A colleague IM’s you to ask your input on a project they’re working on. Your husband texts you to ask what’s for dinner. The instructor for one of your online courses has finally provided feedback to an assignment you submitted last night. So while your intentions were good, you’re pulled in too many different directions to focus on any one thing.
In the article referenced above, Eggers argues that multitasking like this inevitably leads to mistakes, and those who think they’re good at multitasking are actually the worst at it. It’s something of a quandary, isn’t it? How can you be expected to accomplish anything when everything’s being hurled at you at once? The answer, not surprisingly, is to move away from multitasking in favor of effective prioritization and seeing tasks through to completion.
When you arrive at work in the morning or sit down in front of your computer to complete an assignment for school, make a conscious decision to truly focus on what needs to be done. Turn off all distractions (IM, email, and even your cell phone, if necessary). Of course, this is a delicate balance too. If you focus for too long on any one thing, you’ll have a tendency to burn out. Instead, set aside a period of time, whether it’s thirty minutes, an hour, or two hours, where you’ll do nothing but focus on your task. Once the allotted time has passed, you can reward yourself however you see fit, whether it’s by checking emails, logging in to Connections, Twitter, or Facebook, or chatting with a friend. You’ll have effectively tackled your task without going insane in the process.