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The Real Guide To Multitasking: How To Do Several Things At Once And Stay Efficient

Updated on April 20, 2017

Most of the productivity guides advice you to focus at one thing at a time and remove distractions. This is supposed to skyrocket your efficiency and make you rich, healthy, and happy.

I call this crap. At least in most cases.

I like to watch TV and read e-reader news at the same time, switch to Twitter and Facebook for a while and then answer to some e-mails. And this works perfect, I can see what's on TV and can keep an eye on what's going on in the social networks. And no I don't get crazy.

Of course not everything can be multitasked. When I start writing code I'd like to switch off most distractions at least for 20-30 minutes. In such time I hate when someone starts talking to me in IM or ring the phone.

So it's not that multitasking is bad, it's that bad multitasking is bad. If you learn some time management techniques you will be able to manage your time for multitasking and your time for doing just one thing.

Let's explore some techniques for multitasking:

Multitasking by type of work

It's hard to write an essay and paint a picture at the same time. At least for most of us. One of the best multitasking techniques is to combine tasks that are very similar to each other. This way you won't need to mentally switch between different times and lose time over the switch. Here are just some ideas:

  • Answering emails. If you have several simple emails to answer you don't need to do it in order. Open few windows and copy-paste parts that are relevant to everyone. Then adjust each message individually where required. Before sending each message read it.
  • Cooking and cleaning dishes. This is not a business task, but it's also a good example. While waiting for something to heat or get cooked you can do something that keeps you in the kitches. Which could be cleaning dishes for example.
  • Reading/perceiving. This is the easiest to multitask. We all have "not that important" things we like to read but never have enough time. You can do such reading along with watching the news on TV or listening to music or radio. Both tasks don't really require deep concentration. Of course don't apply this to reading important things that you should understand well and remember.

I'm sure you can come with more similar ideas. The goal is to combine tasks which require the same mental focus. Learn more about grouping related tasks here.

Fake multitasking (just like a computer)

Do you know how your computer can run all these programs at the same time? It has only one processor. The answer is that it isn't really running them in the same time. It passes a cycle on one task, switches few cycles to another task, then to the next one etc.

Similarly you can do "fake" multitasking by completing a small part from one task and once you get border, move to the next task, then repeat.

Don't switch task when you feel productive and concentrate. Do it when you feel a block and feel bored. Not only you'll use your time more efficiently but you can get a fresh idea about the previous task while you are working on the next one.

Prioritized multitasking

Prioritization of tasks when multitasking is still important regardless that you are doing them all "at the same time". Place the tasks that are more important at the beginning of the multitask cycle, but not as first. For a first task choose something unimportant to get your mind working. Between each two important tasks put one less important that will serve as a break and idea source.

Never do multitasking when...

There are some tasks that most of us can't and should not multitask. Such tasks require high concentration. For me for example such task is programming a new algorithm. For a doctor it can be a surgery operation. For a businessman it can be evaluating a new opportunity.

Never do multitasking when you are working on tasks that meet any of the following criteria:

  • Require high concentration - programming, making business plans, engineering etc
  • Mistakes can't be recovered easily - surgery, driving, engineering
  • Involve learning new things

Most other tasks can be done together, if you can multitask properly.

Be Careful With Multitasking However (Video)


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      voyo 6 years ago

      Three isn't bad at all, it's still multitasking

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      Rick Rudd 6 years ago

      An interesting take on a subject I'm still trying to shine in. The similar activity part makes a lot of sense, as does the frequent breaks taken when bored or partly finished. I really am envious of people who can do more than five things at once; I can never manage more than three for very long.