Does Multi-Tasking Really Increase Productivity?

It is truly the era of the multi-tasker.  Multi-tasking is a bonified dictionary term now, and there are few moms out there who don't employ it's use (and survive because of it) in one way or another.  But, does multi-tasking really increase our productivity, or does it drain the quality from our most important efforts?

If you knew me, you would know that I love all things time-management related.  I buy planners for fun and enjoy creating mind maps.  Categorizing a to-do list is my idea of a good time.  Personal productivity tools energize me in a way I can't even explain.  (All of you "paper lovers" out there can probably relate.)  Needless to say, any approach that maximizes my time and gets me working effectively draws my attention in a big way.  Over the years, though, I have become less enamored with the results I get from multi-tasking.

Goals by definition, are meaningful, focused outcomes, right?  If so, shouldn't we be working on a meaningful, focused outcome in a meaningful, focused way?  Maybe it's time to go back to the old adage of "do one thing and do it well." 

I do think multi-tasking has its place.  Nothing is taken from my phone conversations if I do a load of laundry or dust while I talk.  Similarly, if I go grocery shopping, it only makes sense that I stop at the dry cleaners and the library as well.

When I am writing an article or grading papers, however, I must focus completely on the task at hand or the quality of my effort suffers.  In order to produce my best work (and this also applies to the time I spend teaching the boys), I need to be in a focused state of mind.  A focused mind is clearer, it isn't cluttered up with the next three things on my to do list.  A focused mind is efficient, it doesn't waste valuable time and energy flipping between activities.  Most of all, a focused mind is effective.  By freeing the mind to concentrate on one thing and one thing only, it has more capacity for generating original thoughts and logically developing them. The yield… quality results and work I can be proud of.  Sometimes, I find myself in the "supermom" mentality, where I seek a greater quantity of activities, which makes me feel more productive.  But feeling productive and being productive are not one in the same.  To be productive, I want my efforts to yield excellence.

For instance, when I wrote the curriculum for my business communication course, I took chunks of time at night when the rest of the house was asleep rather than trying to cram it into my day.  I wouldn't have been able to focus on the task because it would have been competing with too many other tasks.  My thought process would have been continuously interrupted by the boys, the phone, the cat and the glaring eyes of my dust bunnies:-)

Instead, after getting the wee ones tucked into their beds, I took a hot shower, brushed my teeth (this always wakes me up!) and, with a cup of tea in hand, retreated upstairs to work.  I kept all of my materials in one basket where I could easily pick up where I left off the night before.

I then would decide how much time I wanted to spend on the project ahead of time.  Some nights I was ready to drop by 8pm (hmmm, anyone else out there know that feeling?)  Those are the nights I set myself to a half hour of easy tasks.  Other nights, I was really energized and could commit to three hours.  On those nights, I would see huge chunks of quality work just falling out of my brain.  When it was time for bed, I had a great sense of peace because I felt that I had truly produced my best work.

Over the next month, try focusing on your meaningful projects even just a little more.  Save the multi-tasking for the brainless, routine activities and concentrate the best parts of you on the work that will best fulfill the vision you have for your life!

  1. February 24, 2008

    Thank you for sharing this post with the readers of this week’s Carnival of Family Life! This week the Spring is Just Around the Corner Edition is hosted at home at Colloquium! Hope you will drop by and read some of the many other wonderful entries received this week!

  2. March 2, 2008

    Thanks for submitting a great article to the March 2008 Mom’s Blogging Carnival. You can see your story and all the others at:


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