Wednesday, September 01, 2010

When to Multi-task

One of my LinkedIn Groups had a discussion this week about multi-tasking, sparked by an article in InfoQ. The article talked about the cost of context switching and some of the other costs of multi-tasking. There conclusion, which I generally agree with was;
Context switching between projects takes time and is a cost to the organization. The more projects involved and the more complex the projects, the higher the cost. By focusing on one thing at a time for a longer time period, individuals can work more efficiently.

So is there a time when multi-tasking is ok? The answer is Yes. Harvard Business Review had a recent article on this topic and they sited a couple instances when multi-tasking could help you.

One idea that struck a chord with me was to multi-task when you are stuck. If you're trying to solve a problem and can't make any progress, step away, go do something else, and come back with some fresh ideas. I do this a lot with work...if I feel like I'm not getting anywhere, I'll go get a cup of coffee, talk to a colleague, or even surf the internet for a few minutes. When I get back to the original task, I've come up with an idea that gets me past my roadblock. Next time you're stuck, try it.


Stan said...

I would agree that switching to another task may be useful when you're stuck. This time off may help solve the problem with previous task. If that does not work, it may be good to leave and “forget” about difficult issue for longer, say one day. This may help unconscious mind to solve the issue. Like creative people who get insight and ideas without specially looking for them.

Stan Yanakiev, PMP

Bob Tarne said...

Stan - you're right. I've heard the opinion that doing something like spending a few minutes on-line shopping or reading a blog can help you "forget" the difficult task while unconsciously, you're still working on it.

Jessie Warner said...

I also agree with Stan. Switching tasks or just getting away from the situation can really help you focus when you return to the task. I use @task project management softwareto manage my tasks and then helps as well. It lets me keep the big picture in mind.

What do you do when there aren't enough resources for you to not multi-task?