Multitasking Doesn’t Work. Task Stacking Might.

Mitch JoelPosted by

I can’t multitask. I just can’t. Can you? Successfully?

When I try to do two things at the same time, I often find that it’s a fail. I either focus too much on one task, and it’s not accomplished to the best of my ability (because some of my head space is semi-focused on the other task). I can think about new ideas while scrolling through (and deleting) emails… there’s something about that practice that brings out new thinking (weird, right?). With that, there have been countless studies that demonstrate just how impossible multitasking is (go ahead, Google it… I’ll wait).

With that, we all get only twenty-four hours in a day, and our world keeps getting more and more complex.

Spouse, kids, work, family, friends, life… you name it. Everything keeps getting in the way. Show me a person who can do it all, and I’ll show you a person who spends a lot of time on a couch with a therapist or someone who is heavily medicated (or both). We fall behind. We claim that we will get to it. We want to be able to “catch up on vacation”… or do whatever we’re not doing when we have a moment to breathe. Things slip. Always. I’ve let two things slip (and I’m embarrassed by it) over the years. Up until May of this year, it had been a long time since I had any formal exercise regiment in place. I can give you the standard excuses, and amp those up with two legitimate (albeit it minor) injuries, but they’re just excuses. Reading books had become a problem area as well. I just couldn’t find the time, energy or ability to keep my eyes open long enough to get through a book (yup, that’s just excuses!). Both the lack of exercise and book reading was eating me up inside.

The first shift: Kill your goals.

The idea of killing my goals came to me after reading Tim Grahl‘s excellent new book, Running Down A Dream (which I read post-May… as you will soon discover). I realized that when I accomplish whatever goal it is that I set out to accomplish, the result never satiates as much as I had thought it might. Plus, more often than not, the goal would not be met, and I would fall into a self-loathing pit of despair. My solution was to kill my goals, and focus on my personal values. Those values being: I don’t want to die. I want to have some kind of regular exercise in my life. I want to be a healthy person. I want to read more, because reading also makes me feel healthy (and smarter). With that, I decided to walk every morning. First thing. Every morning. Without exception. So far… so good. I’ve been at it since early-May. As I began this morning walk ritual, I would listen to music and podcasts to pass the time. Then it struck me, why not listen to audio books? Once that kicked in, I found myself wanting to read more as well (and not just listen to audiobooks). I dusted off my trusted Kindle, and started reading bits of pages and chapters here and there (and, different books from the ones that I was listening to on my walks). By 8:00 am every morning, I had walked almost 5 miles and would “read” (or listen) to a handful of chapters of a book. Killing my goals and embracing my true life values seems to be working (so far… so good).

The second shift: Task stacking.

Daily exercise and listening/reading a book at the same time. Multitasking! It works! Not so fast. I was, simply, stacking two tasks that can be done at the same time without one stealing energy (physical or psychological requirements) from the other. That got me thinking. What other tasks can we stack together? Reading a book while going to the bathroom? Deleting emails and grazing newsletters while coming up with ideas? Reading/listening to a book on your commute to work? OK, these all seem like ways to simply add reading into otherwise dormant moments. What about work solutions that are task stacking?

Uch… nothing else is coming to mind. 

I think there is something to this idea of Task Stacking over multitasking. I’m wondering about what else might work for you at work? What are the combos?

Let’s open this up: Have you figured out a Task Stacking solution that works for you? Do tell…