When Multitasking Can Work

It's not news by now that multitasking is not really a useful strategy to get more done. If you’re working on a task that needs your attention, the task will suffer if you try to share your focus with another task. But there are some situations when multitasking can make sense. (See also: The Fallacy of Multitasking)

Finding those situations requires taking a broader look at what multitasking is.

Filling Empty Task Downtime

Literally doing two things at once won't work well, but there are plenty of situations where you can set yourself up to accomplish a lot during the downtime a particular task requires.

Consider what it takes to do the laundry with the help of modern appliances. You’ll need to sort your clothes and put them in the washing machine. Then you’ve got a big chunk of time before you need to move those clothes to the dryer. You’ve got another chunk of time there, until you can take the clothes out of the dryer, and, if you’re on top of things, fold those clothes. Planning your day to make full use of the time you have to wait to complete other tasks is a more practical approach to multitasking.

Know Your Schedule

In order to find those pockets of time when you can accomplish more than just watching the minutes tick by on the clock, you’ll need to know what it’s going to take to actually do the tasks on your to-do list. If you don’t have both an understanding of when you’ll have downtime and what you need to accomplish, you can’t put together the puzzle of what you can do when. It’s like having a bunch of puzzle pieces with no idea of what the final product should look like.

You won’t always be able to fill every hole in your calendar ahead of time. But as you’re more aware of how you spend your time, you can start looking for opportunities to do a little more. It’s not a bad idea to keep your task list with you at all times, particularly if you can note items that you can do quickly, while you’re waiting. Knowing the difference between what you can do in 10 minutes and what will take longer is an important step. Otherwise, you can spend the entire time you have available trying to figure out what you can accomplish in that slot.

Don’t Take It Too Far

You can accomplish a lot in the time you spend talking to your friends when hanging out. But that doesn’t mean that you should. You shouldn’t fight to fill every moment of your day with work. It’s easy to get caught up in things, especially considering that many of us have smartphones in our pockets full of things we could be doing right now. However, most of us know when we really ought to be paying attention to the people we’re with.

It’s harder to make a decision to not try to cram in another task when we need some downtime. Just the same, though, it’s OK to just sit quietly and think, sometimes. There are days that the best use of your time while waiting for the laundry to run is relaxing with a book or even a nap. That’s perfectly fine.

Find a combination that works for you. Multitask when you’ve got downtime during specific tasks and need to accomplish more, but don’t be afraid to choose to do nothing.

What strategies are you using to fill your downtime with productive action (or quality relaxation)?

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When Multitasking Can Work

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I subscribe to various podcasts and listen to those and radio or books on my iPhone while I'm gardening and housecleaning, doing laundry, whatever.
I'm listening, learning and don't even notice the (sometimes) drudge work that I'm doing.