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Is multitasking making us more efficient?

It’s a question I’ve wondered about for some time–are we really more efficient if we “multitask”? In Chapter 6 of Jones & Hafner’s Understanding Digital Literacies, the idea of multitasking is approached through the lens of attention structures. While both sides of the argument exist on whether multitasking is detrimental or helpful–we still need to address the core idea of whether it truly makes us more efficient workers.

Multitasking defined.

By definition, multitasking at its core is doing multiple things simultaneously. When we drive, we multitask (and I’m not talking about texting and driving!). We are responsible for keeping our eyes on the road, what vehicles surround us, stoplights, the radio, our passengers, and so on. We manage our attention in what is referred to by Linda Stone as “continuous partial attention”, where while we are paying attention to multiple tasks, we are only doing so partially.

Which brings me back to my question: are we really more efficient if we multitask? If we are in continuous partial attention while we multitask, how does that make us more efficient?

Myself as a multitasker.

For me personally, I know that I multitask all the time. Even while writing this post, I answered an email that popped up on my smartphone as I sit here and type on a desktop computer. That email required me to look up a website to confirm an error I may have made when typing in an address earlier. When I came back to this post, I had to reread the last paragraph or so to get myself back on track. The entire exchange only lasted about 2 minutes, but was that 2 minutes lost in my efficiency of writing this blog post? I think so.

The proverbial open tabs.

Up until very recently, I’ve been one of those people who always has at least 5 tabs open on a browser. As I type this, I have 4 tabs open. I was also that person who wouldn’t close a tab until I’d accessed all the information I needed from it, so I would keep my browser open for days until I could get to it.

But that changed.

I started to use my 2Do app more (opened my 5th tab here, found the URL, and then closed the tab after copying the address). I made a list called “website links” that I use only for putting in websites that I want to come back to in the future. Each day, I look at that particular list to see if there are any I can chip away at.

And when I’m finished with this post, I will close this tab and be able to sleep tonight.

But the question here is whether I have become more efficient because I multitasked. To answer this, we must consider organization.

Get organized.

It’s the 21st century–we are certainly not at a loss for ways to be organized in our lives. We have smartphones, computers, calendars, smart watches–all forms of technology that allow us to be more organized…or less organized? Because we have more things to organized, are we becoming less organized and, therefore, less efficient? We look at our to-do lists, our emails, our work–how do we fit it all in? Better yet, how can we fit it all in through multitasking AND do it well?

I learned that in order to be more organized that I had to find a system that worked for me. Since I’m an early adopter, I’m willing to try anything once. I’ve had my 2Do app for years, but my last job required me to use Wunderlist (opened yet another tab, accessed the URL, and closed it). It was painful for me to use it because it was, to me, just one long to-do list that was linear and couldn’t be organized the way I wanted it. It’s a fabulous app–don’t get me wrong. But it didn’t work for my brain or for my method of organization.

But all to-do apps essentially do the same thing–list out what you need to do. So how do you do all the things?

Schedule work.

I’ve been working with a business coach to help me be smarter about working. How can I be more efficient in my work while doing all the administrative things like billing and bookkeeping while doing all the work like building websites and writing blog posts and, well, working? My 2Do app is great for reminding me of due dates and what items need to be accomplished on a holistic level. But how do I do them? My business coach suggested that I do what I tell my clients to do about their own social media: slate time in my calendar to do the things. My business coach also told me about the Passion Planner (opened a new tab, accessed the URL, and closed the tab). It started as a Kickstarter (opened yet another tab to find info on their Kickstarter, access the URL, and closed the tab) and has grown into a buy one-give one program. The Passion Planner helps me find my passion and then get stuff done by scheduling out my days and weeks. I seriously love this concept–I have finished so much more work in the last month since I received mine that I can hardly stand it! Each week when I fill out the planner, I multitask–read through emails, visit my 2Do app, open tabs–and carve out some time to do all the things.

So…am I more efficient when I multitask?

Honestly, I don’t really think I’m more efficient when I multitask, per se, but I am more efficient when I focus in on what I need to get done because I’ve thought it through, planned my time to do it, and followed through. Which, in all actuality, is multitasking, isn’t it?

(Opened final tab, searched for an image, downloaded it, uploaded it to this blog, and closed the tab. Published this blog…and will close this tab when I’m finished.)