Learn to be more Effective AND Efficient: Monotasking vs. Multitasking

Recently I have had my eyes and ears open to more and more business books, blogs,  and podcasts to hear what the experts are doing to be effective and efficient at their work. At the same time I experiment with my own daily tasks and objectives to find out what works for me, so I can get the most out of my days. Monotasking (the opposite of multitasking that requires us to focus solely on one task a time without interruptions) has become a very popular trend, but I'm not 100% convinced it's the only way to get work done effectively and efficiently. On the other hand multitasking forces us to split our efforts in order to get more done in a shorter period of time. So which is better for us?

When I entered the business world I continually heard about multitasking from superiors, from professors, and even some business books. I put this 'art' as some call it, into practice. I talked on the phone while I was typing emails, I texted colleagues while I was in meetings, and I had conference calls on speaker phone while I would continue to work on other projects. I divided my attention amongst multiple tasks in hopes of saving time to get more done in a day, like a well oiled machine... or so I thought. Reflecting back on those days, I see that I was more efficient than I was effective. This was because those multitasking practices forced me to give 1/2 of my attention to each task, giving them both a sub-par effort, but getting a lot checked off my to-do list at the end of the day.

Each of us wants to be effective at our work, but we also have long to-do lists, so we need to be efficient to get it all done. What I've found is that we need a healthy mixture of effective focused work mixed with efficient tasks to maximize our productivity. It's not an either or question for multi or mono tasking, it's a when and where question to maximize our effectiveness AND efficiency.

As I've talked about, I start my day no later than 6 AM to read and write, getting the most important task for the day knocked off my list. My day starts our monotasking, there is no music or podcasts in the background and my phone is on silent until 8 AM. When I write I have to practice discipline to not check email or Facebook before my daily post is published. It's difficult to stay focused but it's helped me stay disciplined in other areas. I eliminate all other windows and I've set my bottom task bar to disappear in order to give me as few distractions as possible on my screen. The only things on my desk (aka kitchen table) are my laptop (no power cord), my mouse, and my coffee. I don't get up from my seat until my post is published, however long that takes.

This is monotasking, not allowing distractions to creep in. We have to do it in quiet space and time with as few distractions as possible or we won't be as effective. Some people will go into extreme monotask mode and put a timer, close their office door, and knock out their tasks. I would recommend putting a timer on for 20-30 minutes, putting the phone on airplane mode, closing the office door, and selecting one task to accomplish. We amaze ourselves at how much gets done when we put all our effort into 1 thing and 1 thing only. 

Monotasking vs. MultitaskingAs I mentioned I used to juggle multiple tasks all day to get as much done in my quest for efficiency. That's the way my mind works, "If I can do this while I'm doing that, I'll be done in half the time!" WRONG! I have only learned the value of true quality work in the past few years. Too many times when we attempt multitasking we end up doing a piss-poor job of our work and we need to go back and fix it. In the days I was multitasking my face off I would regularly (almost daily) forget to attach things to emails because I didn't focus on the task at hand. I would have to go back and resend it with an attachment and a sheepish note saying I forgot it after someone replied all to ask about said attachment. I have definitely changed my ways since  then, but I still believe there are a few times we can effectively and efficiently multitask to get more done in a day.

Today I listen to podcasts or audio books while running and working out, cleaning the house, or driving. I'll check my Twitter feed (Yes, this actually is work-related) on my elevator ride in my apartment or while waiting in line for coffee. And of course, I'll talk on the phone while walking, driving, or riding my bike. Notice I didn't say emails, I batch all of those into certain times of the day, you can go here to read more about that and seven other productivity tips.

The bottom line is that everyone works differently, but I've found that the more we attempt to do, the less effective we'll be at it. So if you're in need of great work, eliminate distractions and get focused. If you have a mundane task like listening to a conference call, than listen, but take a walk or clean your office so you're not just sitting and staring. Its OK to be efficient AND effective sometimes.

What Monotasking vs. Multitasking examples do you have?