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Are you a great multitasker? Not so fast…

March 23, 2015 Blog 1 min read

At Plante Moran, we have a number of training courses we provide to staff. One of them is on time management and offers a number of great tips like:

  • Prioritize your to-do list.
  • Eat that frog. (Do the hardest, least fun thing first. Just get it over with!)
  • If a task takes less than five minutes, do it right away. If it takes longer, put it on the list.

It also covers multitasking. Now, most people think they’re excellent multitaskers. (I used to, too.)  So when Laurence Vanden Boom, one of our learning consultants, proclaims to our staff that “There’s no such thing as multitasking,” it starts a fairly spirited discussion—until he puts our staff through the following exercise.

Get yourself a sheet of paper and a pen. Divide the paper in half. On the top half of the paper, determine how long it takes you to list all numbers between 1 and 20 in one row and write “I am a great multitasker” in a row beneath it. Once you have your time (using a stop watch, cell phone, etc.), jot it down. I think the most recent time at Plante Moran was around 20 seconds.

With me so far? Great. Now we move on to the second half of the paper. This time, you’re going to alternate between numbers and letters. So you’ll want to write “1,” “I,” “2,” “a,” 3,” “m” etc. until you once again have one row of the numbers 1 through 20 and one row touting what a great multitasker you are.

I’m betting it takes you about twice as long as it did the first time.

This is a very powerful illustration of why it may be a good idea to focus your time and energy on a single task prior to moving on to the next one. It may feel like you’re being extremely productive while multitasking, but odds are, you could be that much more productive by focusing your energy and avoiding distractions.

So what do you think? Still consider yourself a great multitasker? Any tips for how to avoid it in favor of a more focused approach?

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