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© 2019 by J. Brooke Simmons

  • Brooke Simmons

Multitasking? Think Wasting Money.

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

There was a time in my life when I was a boastful multitasker.


“Multitasking!? I thrive on it!” I said.


While that may have been true when my brain was young, it didn’t necessarily mean I was being as productive as I could have been. And now, in my business, when we have multiple large and small projects on the go at once, I have realized how absolutely useless multitasking really is.


If you are given a “brain bandwidth” every day (which could be high or low, depending on factors like sleep, stress, exercise, etc.), you have a certain amount of energy to process your tasks and your life. Which is really great if you have one task to do all day…it would naturally get 100% of your bandwidth and time, or fairly close to it. However, one task per day is pretty much never going to happen for most of us.


When you start switching in between tasks, not only does your whole attention start to wane in each individual task, but the simple act of switching takes up a freakin’ HUGE amount of bandwidth and obviously reduces the amount of time you are able to give to any particular task.


Gerald Weinberg first wrote about this in Quality Software Management, and I picked this up from Jeff + J.J. Sutherland’s book, SCRUM. Let’s take a look at this little data breakdown:

  1. If you have ONE project on the go, your percent of time available is 100% and the Loss to Context Switching is 0%.

  2. If you have TWO simultaneous projects on the go, your percent of time available is 40% and the Loss to Context Switching is 20%.

  3. If you have THREE simultaneous projects on the go, your percent of time available is 20% and the Loss to Context Switching is 40%.

  4. If you have FOUR simultaneous projects on the go, your percent of time available is 10% and the Loss to Context Switching is 60%.

  5. If you have FIVE simultaneous projects on the go, your percent of time available is 5% and the Loss to Context Switching is 75%.

*crickets*


(Because how many of you have 5 projects on the go right now?)


My least productive days were spent switching several times between projects. While switching and working on several projects can cause you to legitimately be super busy, it doesn’t lead to productivity.


Loss of productivity obviously has a direct effect on output AND a leads to burnout, both which don’t just have the potential to cost huge, they do.


Break the Multi-Tasking Habit


If you are running a busy business, there are a million things happening at once, I get it. As I mentioned earlier, we are rarely going to have times when we have only 1 thing happening.


But you can start eliminating a lot of the multitasking by just having an awareness of it and implementing some key strategies into your life. Aiming to break the habit of multitasking will start to heighten our focus, reduce our loss to context switching, increase our output, and overall make us happier, more successful humans.


Here are a few tips:

  1. Start with Boundaries – This could be a whole other topic, but defining clear boundaries for yourself and your team or family on your availability for meetings, interruptions, and questions is a good place to start. Are you letting constant interruptions from other people disrupt your focus? Can you put hard stops on meetings, or reduce meetings that don’t bring much value to what’s on your plate now?

  2. Decide to Focus – Set out specific non-negotiable time during your workday to focus on ONE task. Put it in your planner, set your boundaries with other people and do that one thing either until it’s done, or until your scheduled time is up.

  3. Start on Small Focus – If your brain is still in multi-task mode, start small. The Pomodoro Technique is a good way to start chunking your focus and your time. And there are a bunch of Pomodoro apps to help you like this one.

  4. Eliminate Your Distractions – Ding. Ding. Ding. We’re like Pavlov’s dog when it comes to notifications, and quite frankly, WE ARE OVER NOTIFIED. Shut the notifications off. Make your focus time non-negotiable. Put your phone on airplane mode, kill the email notifications on your computer (I say forever), and if you are still wandering off into Facebook land or Etsy (my personal addiction), get something like the SelfControl app and use it.

  5. Chunk Tasks – If you can chunk like tasks into non-negotiable time blocks, this is better than scattering them throughout your week. There may be a ton of miscellaneous crap that has to get done during the week. Why not plan a block of time on ONE morning and group all of those pieces into one block of time? Can you reduce the frequency?

  6. Morning Planning Ritual – I’ve implemented a morning planning ritual, or meeting (with myself), every morning where I plan my day. I have a running list of what needs to happen based on current projects and goals, and I use this time to pull from that list all of the items that will need to get accomplished that day to deliver the highest value. Then I plan, chunk and review with the point of reducing context switching as much as possible. Some things may get cut from the list.

  7. Delegate – Sometimes, especially when running a business, there is too much to do. If you are consistently at the point of overwhelm and the thought of reducing multi-tasking actually seems impossible, it may be time to consider delegating certain tasks to someone else. This will increase your focus, reduce your loss to context switching and help you avoid the very costly burnout. (Check out my delegation levels post to help you here too).

While we may not ever completely eliminate all multi-tasking in our businesses and lives, we certainly can consciously start avoiding and reducing it…therefore upping our productivity and value.


All my best,



Brooke