Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Multitasking Fallacy

Day 5 of 365 Tiny Changes

Today, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. 

Yesterday, I wrote about all of the unfinished projects that I have to battle to completion.

I think my real problem is that I am an idea person.  Not a finisher.  I LOVE creating.  I even like the start up process of a new idea.  Making the plan, purchasing the materials, getting organized, even starting the project...that’s where if falls off the cliff.  Usually, I get board and/or side tracked on to another project.

I’ve tried multitasking, but failed miserably.  So I researched multitasking, to find out just what I was doing wrong.  Guess what, I discovered the reason I failed at talking on the phone, while answering an e-mail, while finishing a report, while standing on my head singing the BHA song.  It turns out the reason I failed, is because it’s IMPOSSIBLE. 

Our brains can literally only do one thing at a time.  If I think I’m multitasking, doing more than one thing at a time, I’m not.  In reality I’m flipping my attention from one task to the other and back again.  Some people can do this better than others, and some people, like me, shouldn’t attempt it at all.  I am one who should never talk on the phone while I’m driving and I would NEVER attempt to text and drive, unless I was on a suicide mission.

While somewhat relieved to know that I’m not a total failure, it’s still depressing.  Apparently, there are no short cuts to getting my “to do” list completed, outside of hiring someone else to do it.  On my budget, that’s not happening any time soon.

Being ever the creative, I’m putting a new meaning to the word multitasking.  When I say the word, I mean working on more than one project on the same day.  The differentiation being “same day” vs. “same minute”.

I am one to get easily bored or distracted.  I have picked 3 projects to work on over the next two weeks.  They are similar, yet different enough to keep me focused, and they are all in the same location, my bedroom/office.  No wandering aimlessly from one location to another, allowing myself to get side tracked in any other way.

Project One:  Clear all e-mails.   I have 3 separate e-mail accounts, silly me.

Project Two:  Review all photos uploaded to IPhoto and burn the keepers to disks.  I only have 9000 photos to go...

Project Three:  File the paperwork taking over my bed room.  I have about 10 file boxes to get through.

My version of multitasking will allow me to move from one project to the other, as I get frustrated or bored with the one I’m working on.  It will, also, allow me to fully focus on the moment I am living, instead of being distracted and overwhelmed by attempting to do too many things at once.

Tiny Change 5:  One task at a time.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, maybe trying my version of multitasking will give you some relief, too.  Let me know you results and ideas on making this work even better.

Best regards,



  1. Boy could I relate to this day's blog, Linda. In my current job I'm required to multitask almost all the time, and I find it so frustrating. And the supervisors (yes, I have more than one) act like there's something wrong with the analysts in my unit because we can't get everything done faster. But when you jump back and forth from one thing to the next to the next (not by choice, but because you keep getting pulled from one to the other) and RARELY get to work on one thing all the way through, guess what? It takes a lot longer. I'm not quite sure how I can do it, but I'm going to try to see if there's a way I can apply your tiny change to my job. Cindy Koenitzer

  2. Linda,
    I'm committed to making this tiny change, too!
    I'm realizing that how I'm using my time at work is trending towards multitasking by trying to keep up with my management responsibilities while also handling more client concerns, because I feel like my staff are overwhelmed. This produces two unintended results - first, it means my other work doesn't get the attention it requires during office hours, so I find myself working at home more. Second, because I have so much people time at the office, I don't pick up the phone or even get online once I'm home. Hmmm....one tiny change for me could be reminding myself to be responsible for myself and to others.

  3. I bet the person who coined the word multitasking never attempted it, or was using a machine of some sort. The only time I can truly multitask is when I have a load of laundry in the washer, the dryer, and dishes in the dishwasher! The rest of the time, I'm out of luck.

    Perhaps we can come up with a better term that more accurately describes our human capabilities. We can write a book, offer seminars, and get the bosses of the world to honor what we are able to accomplish, instead of demanding what is truly impossible for us to do.

    Best of luck to you and your tiny changes.