Monday, November 30, 2009

The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing it All Gets Nothing Done

I have long believed the "multitasking" craze was indeed, crazy. I based it on my personal experiences and observations of others, especially my kids.

You've experienced it before: talking to someone who was busy texting or working on the computer. They do not seem to hear what you say. There may be an "mm-hmm" or a "yeah" but nothing that indicates true comprehension. And then there is the moment of truth, when something is said, they look up a little bewildered and say, "I'm sorry, what was that?" Or, most often with my kids, "I don't remember you telling me to do that!" or "When did you say that?"

Evidently the insurance companies aren't convinced either. They lead the way in advocating the ban of texting and cell phone use while driving, and with good reason: higher accidents. This alone should disabuse us of our ideas about multitasking.

The cost in efficiency and personal relationships is high (who likes being ignored?). And yet we cling to the myth of multitasking tenaciously. (My wife recently applied for a job that listed "must be able to multitask" on their description. This is a common occurrence.) Yet when I observe what some people consider the greatest multitaskers (police and firefighters) I see men and women who follow specific protocols and do one thing at a time.

Now along comes a book that tells me what I've always suspected: The Myth of Multitasking (How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done) by Dave Crenshaw (Jossey-Bass). This little book follows the style made popular by The One-Minute Manager and imitated ever since: a fictional narrative that drives home a point.

The narrative itself is only 106 pages long and can be read in a couple of hours. There are approximately 23 pages of worksheets that follow.

Crenshaw correctly labels "multitasking" as "switchtasking" because people (and even computers) actually do not give full attention to two tasks at the exact same time. You switch from one to another, at the cost of efficiency.

Crenshaw makes the iconoclastic claim that not only is "multitasking" a lie, it is worse than a lie. "Because nearly everyone in our fast-paced world has accepted it as something that's true. We've all adopted it as a way of life. People are proud of their skills at multitasking, but the truth is that multitasking is neither a reality nor is it efficient."

This book is well worth your read. Whether you agree with the premise right at this moment or not, read this book! Crenshaw makes a convincing argument.

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