Multitasking gets a bum rap.
Conventional wisdom is now claiming that multi-tasking is a bad thing. That you really can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time.
I’m here to tell you that…
They are right. Partially.
I fully agree that multitasking has its downsides, but our bodies do multiple things at a time. (Go out to lunch with a colleague and see how much multi-tasking you do without even thinking. Breathing. Eating. Conversing. Thinking. You get the idea.)
What if your personality is fast paced, thriving on the energy of having multiple things going on at once? Do you force yourself to be something that’s not in your nature?
As an experienced multitasker (meaning I have done this for a long time, but not that it is always successful) this new wave of thinking sometimes annoys me. However, I had an experience recently that reinforced the idea that certain types of multi-tasking are not a good thing.
I was having a conversation on my Bluetooth headset and walked into the bank to use the coin machine and withdraw some cash. You can probably guess that it was rude both to the person I was talking to, and the teller that was trying to engage with me. We have probably all experienced a situation where someone thinks we are talking to them until he or she notices the headset stuck in our ear.
This was an example of ineffective multitasking, and not being fully present in the moment. However, some types of multitasking are valuable and efficient. I call this “complementary tasking.”
This approach permits you to do two or even more things at once, but they must be intentionally complementary, not competitive. You choose two tasks that do not require the same type of energy or focus. Ask yourself:
- Can both tasks be done in the same vicinity? While something is baking in the oven, you can make sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch.
- Can two things be going simultaneously, safely? The break room dishwasher can be going while I work on an article. This is pairing an automated task with a mindful one.
- Could I mix a mindless “task” with a “people” appointment? With the help of a phone earpiece, I can straighten my desk while talking to a coworker, which would be more efficient than trying to answer email while also talking with her on the phone.
- Will the multi-tasking I’m choosing cause more mental fatigue or less? In the above example of trying to have two simultaneous conversations, my stress level rose (as it probably did for those trying to engage with me.) However, cleaning up a bit while on the phone allows for a reduction in stress.
So before jumping on the bandwagon that all multitasking is ineffective or wrong, consider that complementary multitasking may be the way to accomplish two important tasks without driving yourself (or the people around you) nuts.