Can multitasking produce results?

Can multitasking produce results?

As children, we are often led to believe that the maximum we can do at the same time is maybe walk and talk, or walk and chew gum. Engaging in more than one task at the same time is frowned upon regardless of the fact that multitasking can and does yield great results!

Don’t get me wrong; working through one large objective at a time is a great work ethic. However, I do not believe it is the only way individuals can succeed in the workplace.

There are many who frown on multitasking[1]. Despite this, I think that a more nuanced understanding of multitasking could go a long way in redeeming it as an equally legitimate work ethic.

Therefore, I propose we split multitasking into two categories – multiprocessing and time slicing. Both categories have the same intention: to make progress towards achieving more than one objective at the same time. However, their approaches towards achieving those objectives are different.

Multiprocessing requires multiple processors to work in parallel as they complete different tasks. Our brain has the capability to work as a multiprocessor when fulfilling basic tasks simultaneously such as breathing, eating, and walking. However, the brain is incapable of achieving the same level of efficiency when it attempts to do two higher-level tasks at the same time.[2] Therefore, when we try to multiprocess in order to achieve higher-level objectives, we shouldn’t be shocked to find that we often fail to yield high quality results within a reasonable timeframe.

I believe that time slicing is different. Time slicing involves dividing time into small segments during which one works on a particular task. As long as a single processor is alternating its attention between particular steps, it can work to achieve several large objectives simultaneously. Therefore, while effectively completing small tasks, the processor actually moves towards completing the larger objective at hand.

In order to effectively slice our time, the key is to be organized using a highly detailed checklist. Good, specific checklists force us to break down large objectives into small, bite-sized steps that best optimize our productivity. By breaking down our larger goals into smaller tasks, we can jump between tasks as we proceed to fulfill several objectives at the same time.

I often use this approach to complete all of my work. In the morning, I invest 10 minutes to prepare a daily checklist divided into objectives. I then proceed to break down each objective into steps that should take between fifteen to thirty minutes. In fact, I even allocate a time slot for my menial tasks so that I can address them quickly and efficiently.

Considering the fact that 41% of the time people do not resume their original tasks after being interrupted,[3] my approach to multitasking requires me to aggressively manage my distractions in order to ensure I complete all of my daily objectives.

Considering the aforementioned, I worked hard to ensure that Knowmail’s state of mind option would be developed as a perfect tool for limiting distractions and keeping professionals on track. Today, I simply select my state of mind (on the run, sitting down, show all) and Knowmail does the rest to ensure I only receive mail that reflects the time and priority I am willing to dedicate to my emails. For example, once I am ready to start my day, I simply switch to on the run (the strictest priority filter) in order to ensure that if I am interrupted by a message, it is because that message is in fact truly important.

Regarding my work habits, let me know what you think! Is multitasking possible? Is it ok to switch between tasks as we work to achieve multiple objectives? If so, are checklists the best method?


[2] Marcel Adam Just, Patricia A. Carpenter, Timothy A. Keller, Lisa Emery, Holly Zajac, and Keith R. Thulborn. “Interdependence of non-overlapping cortical systems in dual cognitive tasksNeuroImage 14 (2001): 417-426.

[3] O’Conaill, B. and Frohlich, D. Timespace in the workplace: Dealing with interruptions. Proceedings of CHI 95. ACM Press (1995), 262-263.

Oded Avital
Oded Avital

Oded Avital is Knowmail's co-founder and COO with over 20 years experience in sales, Biz Dev, product and operation management in corporate and startups.

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