How do you work? Or, do anything, really?
Do you focus on one thing? Or do you multi-task?
Clearly, there are advantages to each.
When you focus on one thing, you get done faster. It’s like running a race with your eyes on the finish line–no room for any thought except getting there as quickly as possible. No room for distractions. No room for anything else but getting done.
Sometimes, though, you can’t focus because external influences get in the way. To continue the analogy, your shoelace comes undone, the lanes on the track are laid out oddly so you cannot simply run, but need to watch where you’re going. So … some real-world reasons for multi-tasking? You have to keep an eye on the kids in between writing e-mails. Your computer needs to reboot, so you take advantage of the time by starting supper, or washing the car. You work on your blog post while your article package is printing.
In situations like these, using your “extra” time to do something else is thrifty. Instead of sitting there, staring at the computer screen while Windows does its thing, you’re getting the laundry folded. You’re saving yourself hours in the car at rush hour by working at home, but need to take time out of your day to stop childish feuding over who gets to pick the channel on television.
You’re not wasting your time, you’re squeezing as much as you possibly can into every minute.
But here’s the downside … if you multi-task, it’s going to take you longer to get everything done. Even though it FEELS efficient and thrifty, it is, in fact, a time-suck.
Every time you turn your mind in a different direction, you’re losing your train of thought. See if this sounds familiar: You write a couple paragraphs of an article, click save, and while the computer is thinking, you glance in your inbox to see if you’ve gotten any emails. There are two, one from a friend, one from a business associate. You know the one from your friend will only take you about 45 seconds, so you open it, read it at a glance, throw together a quick reply and hit send. Then you figure you’ll check the other email, to see if it’s something you can do quickly–it turns out to be about a 5 minute time investment, just answering a question, but it takes you some time to type out the response. No big deal.
You take a quick glance at Twitter on your way back to your article and … it’s only been about 6 and a half minutes since you were there, but you’ve done four other things since you looked at this article. Now you need to remind yourself of what you were writing, what your next paragraph was going to be, and re-pick up the threads of your argument. It might only take you a few seconds, but … if you had just plowed directly through to the end without getting distracted, you might have been done by now. Or, at least, you would have been six minutes closer to the end.
But, you might be arguing, I got four other things done. Done! Off my plate. No longer cluttering up my inbox. That’s Accomplishment with a Capital A. … Isn’t it?
Maybe … but was it really worth it?
Let me spell it out this way. Suppose you have four projects to do, each of which should take you about a week of time. It’s obviously the same amount of time whether you do project #1 from start to finish, then project #2, then #3 and #4, or if you rotate one day for the first project, one day for the second, one day for the third, and so on. And, in fact, you might be thinking that the second scenario is better–touching each one briefly before moving on, making sure that all are being worked on, none are being neglected, and you’re making steady progress on all four of them.
But … if these are money-making projects, well … you’re losing money.
If you had focused on getting the first project done, completely, and then moved on to number two … the first one, meanwhile, would have been moving into the next stage of revenue-raising–whether it was an ad campaign to attract new clients, a job that a customer would be paying for–if you got one done FIRST, you’d be getting your money (or new clients) by the time you were working on that fourth job.
Whereas, when you work on each of them, a little at a time, you’re going to complete them pretty much at the same time … a full month after starting, which means you wasted at least three weeks when you could have had some money heading your way.
Is it really worth it?