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Book Review - The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw

Category Book Review Dave Crenshaw The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done
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This is the book that I've needed to read for a long time now...  The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw.  It's taken me a few years to realize it, but the more I try to do at one time, the less effective I seem to be at any one thing.  Crenshaw uses a story setting to illustrate the problem in a way that anyone should be able to relate to...

The Company; The Owner; The Lie; The Cost; The Origin; The Exercise; The Example; The Question; The Meeting; The Expectation; The Truth; The Deal; The Change; The Steps; The Systems; The Follow-up; Worksheets: Switchtasking Exercise, Reports Worksheet, Recurring Meetings Worksheet, Truth of Time Worksheet; Sources; The Author

The story used in The Myth of Multitasking follows Helen, the head of a clothing company.  She's the stereotypical executive, doing ten things at once, and convinced that without her "outstanding" ability to multitask, nothing would get done.  But she wonders why she feels she is getting less and less done, even though she's busier than ever.  Phil, an executive coach, has been hired by Helen to help her get a handle on her schedule before she goes off the deep end.  When he walks her through a typical hour comprised of tasks, emails, phone calls, and staff questions, she thinks she has a full 60 minutes to focus on a particular task.  But in reality, she really only has about 32 minutes, and of that only 10 minutes of uninterrupted time at any given stretch.  This is due to the cost of switching tasks, the time it takes to pick up the thread of a new demand and shut down the old one before you can concentrate.  So instead of multitasking (doing multiple things at once), she's really "switchtasking" (doing multiple things sequentially with the associated overhead of switching between them).  And that's where the myth of multitasking lies...  we can't do more than one primary thing at once.  We can only switch back and forth between two or more items, and that's an expensive operation in terms of time.

Crenshaw uses this story to explain how multitasking can damage relationships, because you're never really "there" for anyone.  As such, they feel as if they must get your time whenever it's possible because they may not see you again for hours.  If you set aside regular scheduled times that they can count on, the pressing tasks seem to calm down and wait to be handled during the times they know they'll have your full attention.  Once this more realistic schedule is in place, fewer demands come all at once, and switchtasking diminishes, leaving you with more time to be productive.

I've fallen into the same trap of trying to juggle multiple things at once, thinking I was being hyper-productive.  In reality, I now see that I've been doing a lot of things adequately, but very little exceptionally.  At worst, this book has reminded me that I need to focus more on a micro and macro level on the current task I'm doing, rather than trying to keep other things on my radar at the same time.  At best, it's given me the momentum that I need to get back to a more structured schedule, instead of letting the urgent overwhelm the important.  Highly recommended...


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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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