Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Myth of Multitasking

book cover, The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking is worse than a lie, says author Dave Crenshaw in his new book. He distinguishes between two types of multitasking:

1. Switchtasking - where you aren't really multitasking, but rather switching back and forth between two (or more) tasks - and becoming hugely inefficient in the process.

2. Background tasking - where you can indeed do two things at once, because one of them doesn't require mental effort.

But when people talk about being good multitaskers, they aren't referring to background tasking. Crenshaw provides a quick exercise to illustrate how inefficient switchtasking can be, and advice on how to break the habit. Much of that has to do with minimizing interruptions: from phone calls, e-mail, instant messaging, people walking into your office, etc.

Now, the ideas in here aren't really new. I first read about the importance of uninterrupted time in Peopleware, which was first published in 1987.

Another key point, the importance of giving people your undivided attention, reminds me of the Buddhist emphasis on mindfulness and the admonition from Ram Dass to "be here now."

And the ideas presented here are pretty simple; they could be conveyed in a short magazine article. As it is, they're presented in a 138-page book that measures 5.5 inches by 7.5 inches and costs $19.95 (if you pay list price). The concepts are presented in the form of a story of a consultant working with his client.

But if this book gets people to reconsider their penchant for multitasking, I'm all for it!

No comments: