The Cost of Multitasking – A Focus Simulation

Multitasking: when we delude ourselves into thinking we’re “out-smarting” time management. In truth, it’s smarter to focus on one thing at a time.

That’s right. When we avoid switching from one context (topic or project) to another, we achieve objectives more quickly, often cutting the time it takes to complete a task in half.

Juggling more than one task at a time, a.k.a. multitasking, might seem like a good way to get more done, but our brains need time to reset or refocus every time we switch contexts. When multitasking, it can take at least 24%* longer to complete related projects because we lose the mind-space and flow of where we were just before the switch.

Not only is it best to focus on one topic at a time, it’s also beneficial to break up tasks and projects into bite-sized pieces. By approaching work in this manner, you harness the power of focus, leaving more space for creative thought and a greater likelihood of success.

Don’t just take my word for it. Try it! Here is an exercise you can use to test the actual sensation of focused time management:

Step 1 – Download the Focus Simulation worksheet. Make yourself two copies.

Step 2 – Have a timer ready. First, time yourself to get a baseline idea of how long it takes to complete the tasks outlined in Step 3.

Step 3 – Be disciplined and follow these instructions explicitly.  DO NOT CHEAT.

  • Start by writing the number “1” in the first column, then move to the middle column and write Jan. or January before moving to the right and entering “A” in the ABC column.
  • Then write the number “2” in the first column, move to the middle column and write Feb. or February before moving to the right and entering “B” in the ABC column.
  • Continue moving left to right across the rows. Avoid writing the information in columns from top to bottom.

Step 4 – Note your time. How long did it take? What did your mind and body experience? What were your thoughts and feelings? Make notes regarding your answers.

Step 5 Now, do this same exercise again and time yourself. This time, however, allow yourself to move vertically from top to bottom down each column before moving to the next column. First, fill in all of the numbers 1 to 12. Next, fill in all the Months January to December. And then finish up by filling in the ABC column. Note your new time.

Step 6 – What did you experience differently from the first time. What did this simulation activity teach you? Decide to change one thing about the way you focus based on this activity.

Look at what you just taught yourself!

I hope you can see even more clearly now that the human mind has limitations. So, give your brain a break, stop multitasking, give yourself more access to a focused mind-space and stop playing switch-a-roo mind-rodeo.

*See page 100 of Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland (find on Amazon here)

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