In a world of so-called multitask masters, technology is what we turn to in order to coordinate the sometimes divisive demands for our attention.
Consider the particulars of what, exactly, divides our attention: We have our cell phones and laptops; then, our myriad collection of icons and files and so-called user-friendly apps that we’ve saved to our devices to ostensibly make our lives easier; then there’s our telephone landlines and the telephone apps that mimic the landline experience; don’t forget our dueling email inboxes (we have at least two, of course: one for work, one for play); plus, our calendar software with its constant diary keeping and its promise to help us manage our time (which we never seem to achieve); but add to that our enrollment in online project-organization tools like BaseCamp and Trello (both of which, alas, come with a learning curve)…
The list goes on—and all we’ve covered so far is the technology that acts as a steward of our tasks, but not the actual doer of them. Which is to say nothing of the performance of tasks on our to-do lists and all the footwork that we carry out in order to fulfill our many commitments (meeting deadlines, writing reports, attending and leading meetings, showing up for our friends and families, etc).
If you’re caught in the non-work cycle of doing too much at once, it could mean you’re multitasking incorrectly (there is a right way to multitask). But it could also mean you need to try monotasking or single-tasking by completely carrying out one task at a time.
In a 2012 TEDTalk, Paolo Cardini, an associate professor in industrial design at Rhode Island School of Design, pushes the audience to “consider the option of focusing on just one task, or maybe turning your digital senses totally off.”
Cordini’s call for focused attention is backed by research. After conducting a survey of numerous studies over the the years, the American Psychological Association concluded that multitasking “may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error.” A recent New York Times article about the effects and efficiency of multitasking, inspired by a recent study in Journal of Experimental Psychology, puts it this way: “By doing more you’re getting less done.”
But keep in mind that when it comes to time management and workflow, there isn’t a silver bullet. The supertasker approach that makes one person feel like a highly optimized and exceedingly masterful handler of their to-do list could make someone else a perennially distracted and hopelessly fragmented overworker who feels constantly under accomplished because they’re not actually getting things done. Or vice versa.
Whatever the method, you must keep the end game in mind: Productivity. Choose the way of working that actually helps you do.