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Let’s start out with this: there’s really no such thing as multitasking. Our big, beautiful human brains, for all of their abilities, cannot pay attention to more than one cognitive task at a time.

What’s more, a number of studies and experts (including this one) point out that when we rapidly flip back and forth between tasks – such as writing an email and listening to a conversation – our performance dramatically diminishes. In fact, a study commissioned by HP suggests that workers who are distracted by phone calls, emails and texts experience a greater IQ loss than someone smoking marijuana (I’m not kidding – check it out).

So if multitasking is a myth, and it makes people slow and ineffective, why is this blog titled “Multitasking Tips for Project Managers”? There are two reasons:

  1. The term “multitasking,” despite all of its flaws, is an established term in our vocabulary. A Google search brings back over 15,000,000 results. So like it or not, for at least the foreseeable future, we’re stuck with the term.
  2. Despite how poorly most of us flip back and forth between tasks, there ARE ways to improve performance, and so that makes it a topic worthy of discussion.

To that end, here are 5 multitasking tips for Project Managers:

  1. Eliminate needless tasks. Spending three times (or more) doing something while multitasking vs. not multitasking is not productive; it’s painful.
  2. Align tasks. Just as there can be efficiencies of scope and scale on an organizational level, there can be efficiencies when multitasking – provided that the tasks are aligned with each other in terms of the type of focus (e.g. visual, aural, kinesthetic, etc.) that each requires.
  3. Cut down on interruptions. It’s hard enough juggling tasks without having to deal with an unexpected change of pace – whether it’s in the form of an unexpected phone call, a bored co-worker and so on. There’s a reason they’re called interruptions (hint: they interrupt).
  4. Unitask multiple tasks. Instead of flipping back and forth between tasks – such as reading this blog, checking email, peering over to see who’s winning the soccer game and so on – invest your time on one task, complete it to a desired milestone, and then switch to the next task. From a distance, this may look like multitasking, but it’s actually shrewd unitasking, and people who master this art become quite productive.
  5. Delegate and/or automate. Are there aspects of a task that you can delegate to a colleague or automate via technology? For example, some project management software lets you create and save project templates, which can be used for future projects. Strictly speaking, this tip is really more about being more efficient in general than it is about multitasking, but it’s worth mentioning because the time and effort savings can be massive.

Your Turn…

What are your best multitasking tips? Or perhaps you have a tragic tale of multitasking woe? Please share your advice and insights here so that we can all learn how to get more done in less time and achieve project management greatness (OK, we’ll settle for being able to leave work on time 2 or 3 days a week).