Monday, January 25, 2010

multitasking revisited

wisdom from elle magazine
while working out on the elliptical -- and listening to an iPod mix -- and reading the january issue of elle, i came across an interesting article on the evils of parallel processing. the article did not slam multitasking (thankfully, since i was enjoying myself and was satisfied with the job i was doing on the physical/acoustic/language tasks at hand), but the inefficiency and danger that comes with attempting to do things simultaneously that require the same modalities of the brain.

texting + driving (both require hand-eye coordination AND moment-to-moment planning skills)
working on a work project and checking email
twitter and . . . well, pretty much anything

according to the article, deskbound workers typically only spend 11 minutes on any one task before being interrupted -- and the interruptions are self-initiated more than half the time (facebook much?). furthermore, one study of microsoft employees showed that after an interruption, workers took an average of at least 15 minutes to return to the initial task. woah.

i'm not an office worker, but i still fall prey to these behaviors frequently! as a result, time spent on work projects isn't as productive as it could be, and the blurry line between work and play/relaxation can be deceptive, making "work" take longer than it should (with the quality suffering as well).

the article can be found here, but here are a few tips i thought were especially useful:

check email only 2-4 times throughout the day. i think i would find this one VERY challenging - but i think i might give it a try! i just changed my inbox setting to 'check manually'. while this may not be a permanent change, i'd like to see how this impacts me.

plan out your time, but block in wiggle room. i do this -- but sometimes not enough.

think about the next action. rather than getting overwhelmed by big projects, take a step back and just think about what needs to happen next. this is a productivity philosophy à la david allen, and i believe in it. i know from experience how easy it is to be so intimidated by seemingly big projects that i end up just pushing them off (and stressing over them anyway!) because of not wanting to think about exactly how to begin.

close the loop on tasks that would take 2 minutes or less right when you see them! it would take longer to store or track these tasks than to actually get them done, so just DO it.

lifestyle downgrade: night float
i will try to put some of the above advice to work -- and see how it translates to the hectic hospital lifestyle (good luck concentrating on one thing at a time when your pager goes off every 3 minutes). i start a new block today, or actually tonight, with 2 weeks of night float (the wonky schedule is described in detail in the link).

weekends, you were nice while you lasted. my next 2-day slice of bliss won't be until march 6-7 (and that still isn't guaranteed since i'm on backup friday night).

luckily, i was able to eke out a LOT of rest and relaxation out of this past month. yesterday ended up being . . . a little weird, due to some family stuff, but still pretty restful. i mean, i was able to get this done . . .

not exactly professional-grade, but it'll do

plus, studying, inbox cleanout, laundry, and the like.

keep 'em coming!
your questions are rolling in, and they are interesting! i am realizing that since there are many readers that started reading fairly recently, things that i assumed were 'known' are actually not as obvious as i might have thought.

for example, yes -- josh and i are married (and just stating this still makes me smile when i think about it :) ). and there are even pictures in this old (but important!) 2006 post.

i think i may end up expanding the answers into a series of posts (after all, i might get tired on night float and will need a little creative nudge). if there is anything you've ever been curious about -- no matter how big or small -- feel free to throw your question into the shubox vortex by clicking the inviting blank box below:

daily duties
off to yoga, grocery shopping, and the dentist . . . then to work at 5 pm! i am going to need to hit the caffeine later; there is no getting around it.



workout: 45 minutes elliptical + weights
- 2 x 12 pushups
- 2 x 12 squats with tricep press, 12 lb weight
- 2 x 12 lat pulldowns, 55 lbs
- 2 x 12 walking double lunges, 2 8 lb weights
- 2 x 12 seated rows, 40 lbs
- 2 x 15 bicycle crunches

from the freezer: while i enjoy cooking, something there is nothing better than a homemade dinner pulled straight out of the freezer, into the oven, and then plunked on a plate.

we are getting a lot of mileage out of these calzones!


  1. What pretty fingers and toes! I love when you can find time for little things like that :)

  2. Sometimes it takes a little while for my programs to run, and it's so tempting to check a blog or two, but I know it's terrible because it takes me more time to remember what I was looking at. If I could break that bad multitasking habit, I'd be golden.

  3. Perfect topic for me - as I take a break from my desk job to look at your blog!

  4. i get distracted soooo easily. but i still have 1 more day of break so it's ok. i'm going to have to use those tips once the semester gets underway!!

  5. I loved the info about interruptions! Hope you don't mind but I quoted you on my blog :)

  6. When I had an office job I did very little actual office work. :)

  7. there are days where i feel like i'm checking email, websites, blogs and the like up to ten times an hour. thankfully it's not all the time and i have productive days, but it's amazing what the internet has done to my attention span. notice i'm blaming the internet, not my attention span. ha.
    awesome blog!

  8. atilla12:38 AM

    love freezered pizza

  9. No time to read this post...gotta check email!
    L, da

  10. I don't think I can even spend 11 minutes on one task at work without being distracted (by food blogs...ahem). And I definitely check my e-mail waaay too many times throughout the day. Great post!