Monday, September 14, 2009

The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done

by Dave Crenshaw

Thumbs up.

Some people will not like this book stylistically. Mr. Crenshaw uses an allegory of a small business owner meeting with a fictional consultant, to make his points. For me it made the book easier to read (I didn't fall asleep every few paragraphs). And perhaps it made the philosophies of Mr. Crenshaw more memorable. I haven't forgotten them yet, but then, it's only been a few hours since I finished it.

Mr Crenshaw's basic premise is this: Many people think they are good multitaskers. But they aren't. They may be better than others at an inefficient system of managing time and work. Crenshaw uses the term switchtasking to describe what most of us do when we think we are multitasking. Switchtasking, according to Crenshaw's definition, is being involved with one task, being interrupted or interrupting ourselves and then immediately getting back on task until the next interruption. But each of these interruptions costs us time and energy.

A true situation of someone accomplishing more than one thing at once is when one requires no concentration, such as watching TV while eating. This he refers to as background tasking. Because only one task requires intellectual effort, the other can occur in the background of our brains.

After convincing the reader that multitasking is, in fact, a myth, Crenshaw goes on to give tools and advice for dealing with the interruptions we all have in our lives. He includes worksheets such as those to help determine where one is inadvertently multitasking and which chronic interruptions warrant their own time slot.

The argument makes sense. It is easily presented. It is a fast read that I can imagine would help some people in their professional lives.

I have a hard time thinking of ways it could help a full time, stay-at-home, homeschool mom. There are many things demanding a parent's time that cannot be schedule into a certain time slot. "It's not your turn to soil your diaper yet, Jimmy." or "You'll have to hold off on that skinned knee, Susan, I'm helping Fred with his school right now."

One point Crenshaw made, however, is worth noting. When we think we are having a conversation and yet trying to keep our brain on what we are doing, we will do neither the conversation nor the task well. Which can easily cross the line into rudeness. In my own life, I know I often continue reading a recipe or correcting a paper or whatever while trying to answer a child's (or even husband's) questions. It never goes well. I will have to be more conscious of stopping the first thing before attempting to listen.


  1. it is good story by

  2. Hi Mary,

    It's funny, because I'd been thinking, even before I read this, that one of the reasons my school year is going better is because I'm not doing as much multitasking during the mornings. I've been able to spend time just staying at the table with the kids and being more involved with what they're doing.

    Part of it is that I'm forcing myself not to worry about getting the dishes done or putting another load of clothes in the wash. (Somehow, that stuff will all get done later, and the homeschooling task at hand will not suffer because of it).

    But, by far the biggest factor is that my youngest is now 4 years old. While she still needs some attention and direction, I'm noticing a huge change even from last year. My guess is that if you ever get to the point when your youngest is a preschooler :), you'll notice that it's much easier to stay focused and the principles of this book will come into play for you.