The Myth of Multitasking

I read The Myth of Multitasking this fall, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I let the book sit a bit after reading before writing this post, in order to see what type of difference it has made. Having read it, and worked through the exercises in the book, and put the principles into action, I feel ready to sum up my experience.

The gist of the book is that people attempting to multitask are fooling themselves. They are generally task-switching quickly, a term familiar to anyone with a computer science background. There are tasks that can be done in parallel, but generally these are menial items. Running while listening to music is a great example.

The book encourages you to be proactive about your interruptions and realistically budget your time. Obviously there is more to it than what I’m summing up here, but you get the idea. It’s a quick read, in the neighborhood of an hour.

So is it simple? Too naive? Can you really tame your schedule? Sure, a lot of people have probably read this book and never implemented the suggestions. But I think it’s possible. The idea of proactively setting meetings with those who interrupt most is more practical than it sounds.

The larger win is just being aware of the cost of interruptions. Similar to a Pomodoro Technique, save your tasks like email, twitter, etc for set intervals, like every 30 or 60 minutes. I find that I make better use of communication tools like email and twitter when I give them focused attention at an interval anyway.

The concepts in this book can be as helpful in your personal time as they are during work. I’ve found my time and tasks at home to be more organized because of these ideas.

Clearly I recommend this book to almost any professional. Like Who Moved My Cheese, I think it should be handed out to ever professional interested in self-improvement.