Lesson 003 – Switch Tasking (or Multitasking) is Worse than a Lie

Today’s lesson is in response to me witnessing how many interruptions my wife currently tolerates during a typical day of homeschool.  I don’t know how she keeps from going crazy and based on a book I read this week I think there might be a better way.

The book was given to me by my last project manager and it’s called “The Myth of Multitasking” (How “Doing it All” gets Nothing done).

The book explains that multitasking is really nothing more than switch tasking.  Switch tasking is when you quickly switch between one task and another.  The problem is that there is a cost associated with each switch.  According to the book “The average number of minutes an employee can devote to a project before being interrupted” is only 11 minutes!  Whether you are trying to maximizes your work or personal life, 11 minutes to devote to a task before having to take your focus off of it causes huge inefficiencies.

I won’t cover the whole book here as it’s a quick read, it’s filled with great ideas, and the author deserves another book sale if you want access to all of his ideas.  I will briefly describe what I taught my kids and the activity we performed to validate the assertions of the book.

I started off the lesson by reviewing the concepts found in the book:

  • Defined Multitasking and Switch tasking
  • Discussed Managing Interruptions
  • Defined Background tasking (My kids enjoyed this topic)
  • Discussed “Multitasking is worse than a lie”
  • Performed the activity described below
  • Contrasted the current reality of the typical homeschool day with how it might be improved using this new approach
    • Resist making active switches (switches that you choose to make)
    • Minimize all passive switches (switches that come at you without your immediate choice)
  • Discussed “when” as it relates to Homeschool:
    • Recurring meetings
    • Clear expectation of availability (Mommy can only focus on one child at a time…trying to focus on more than one just ends up giving everyone less time with Mommy and causes everyone to get frazzled)

Overall, I think the kids got a lot out of the lesson and they seemed to understand the concepts.  I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in maximizing their time.

Here is the activity we performed.  The book has several of these exercises.  I performed each of the exercises on my own but only shared the following one during the Life Lesson as I thought it would work great with kids:

Switchtasking Exercise

Result – The following exercise will help you quickly understand the negative impact of switchtasking on efficiency.

Steps

First Pass

  1. Print a worksheet out for every member of you family
  2. Have a timer with a second hand ready.
  3. In the first row of the worksheet, recopy the phrase, “Multitasking is worse than a lie”.  However, for every letter you write in the M row, switch to the second row (labeled 1) and write the corresponding number.  (The back and forth writing of one letter than one number is “switch tasking”.
  4. Ready, set, go!
  5. After you have completed the last number, 27, write down your total time to completion at the end of the second row.

Second Pass

  1. Have the timer ready again.
  2. In the lower section “M”, recopy the phrase “Multitasking is worse than a lie”.  After copying the entire phrase, switch to the “1” row and write the numbers 1 to 27.
  3. Ready, set, go!
  4. Compare the time to completion between the second and fourth rows.  Typically a person takes twice as long to complete this exercise when switchtasking (first pass) versus focusing on the one task at a time (second pass).

Everyone in my family performed this activity and almost everyone finished their second pass in less than half the time of the first pass.

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