Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Should we be unitasking instead of multitasking?

There's a really interesting piece over in our articles section at Work It, Mom!, about unitasking instead of multitasking, and I'm taking a closer look at it over at The 36-Hour Day.

It's often said that multitasking is how working moms manage to get it all done. But researchers say that our ability to do so may just be a myth. And unitasking is kind of at the root of the whole Fly Lady way of cleaning and decluttering -- focus on one task, do it for a set amount of time, and then move on to the next thing. We know that unitasking works -- at least, I can see how easily it works in terms of doing the laundry or tidying up the house. But could I apply it to my to-do list? Or, better still, my hours at the office?

I tried. Really, I did. But the unitasking mentality doesn't jibe with the "handle things at once" mentality that I currently have at work. I think that's because my main office isn't a typical office -- it's a newspaper, and information rarely comes in on a set schedule, even if you're not dealing with daily news. What if I call someone to fact check a story, leave a message because they're not there, and then move on to the next task only to get interrupted when they call back? What if I work on editing a piece for a later edition, only to get a last-minute submission for the edition I just finished working on? In order to be (or to stay) productive, I feel like I have to have several things going at once.

And then there's technology: My job is easier if I keep multiple browser windows up -- my company's style guide in one, a dictionary in another, the almighty Google in a third. But it's just as easy to open up a fourth and fifth window, and keep Facebook and Twitter at the ready as well. And that's in addition to email accounts (yes, plural) and page design programs (yes, plural).

So, worker bees, help me reign it in by sharing your secrets: Have you tried to unitask, rather than multitask, at the office? How do you make it work for you?

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