There’s a blog title that’ll get you banned from the internet.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Specifically for about the last year or so. This month it was confirmed by that most reliable sources: The Reader’s Digest. According to Joseph Hallinan, when we multi-task, we get stupid. The problem comes in from switching back and forth between tasks. He quoted a Microsoft study that found it took a group, on average, 15 minutes to get back to productive tasks after answering email. This was because after they were done, they “strayed off to answer other messages or surf the web”.
I know this to be true, because when the revolving door they put in my office spins, it takes me a while to get refocused on what I was doing. The more complex task, the longer it takes. Like having a bookmark fall out: the more complex the story, the longer the break, the more involved the interruption, the harder it is to find where you were in the plot.
The counter to that is a quote from a friend of mine “I don’t know about chaining 100 monkeys to a 100 typewriters for a 100 years and getting a Shakespeare play, but I do know that if you lock a bunch of web developers in a room with a case of Diet Mountain Dew, in a couple of hours you will have a REALLY cool Silverlight app.”
It always seemed to me, the more things I tried to do at once, the less of them I got done. Or at least done well. Charles Emerson Winchester III said “I do one thing at a time. I do it VERY well. And then…..I move on.” Which seems like a neat thing in a sitcom about Korean M*A*S*H Units, but how does that apply today?
Knowing the brain does not really perform multiple things at once, it is just capable of VERY fast switching between tasks is a start.
Simple rules will also help:
1. Check email twice a day
2. Check voice mail twice a day
3. Check twitter once an hour (let’s be serious)
4. Integrate your social networking via Digsby or some other client.
5. Take your lunch break away from your desk (personal habit of mine)
6. When you are with someone, be PRESENT with them.
7. Ask a simple question “Is this interruption worth destroying my momentum?”
There might be more on this one in the future. Provided the post title doesn’t get me banned. In the meantime, what helps you be focused and productive?