Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Use Strategic Pairing to Multitask Effectively

Multitasking. It’s a controversial topic. Some people swear by it, but others hate it.

Really, this isn't very surprising. When applied poorly, multitasking can be a total nightmare. However, when it’s done properly, it can drastically improve your productivity on any given day.

Photo by Martin Pulaski on Flickr.

Today, I'd like to introduce a new principle to you:

Strategic Pairing: The strategic combination of complementary tasks for the purpose of effective and sustainable multitasking.

Let’s entertain a scenario: in an effort to be productive and “get more done”, you decide to implement multitasking in your day. That’s great. So, you start checking your email while on the phone at work. You also start watching TV while cooking your dinner and ride your stationary bike while working on your laptop.

Sounds great, right? Well, not really. The above scenario is doomed to fail because the tasks are paired poorly. They are not complementary because the pairs require too much energy and concentration to be sustainable.

Luckily, multitasking is not always doomed to fail. From my experience, I've found a simple technique that, when properly applied, can allow for effective multitasking.

If you want to apply Strategic Pairing, follow these steps:

  1. Think of the tasks that you need to do.
  2. Evaluate the level of focus and concentration that needs to be used (ie. low/high).
  3. Pair two complementary tasks together. This means that you pair one task that requires low concentration and energy with one that requires high concentration and energy.

The key to this simple technique is the third step. Ultimately, most multitasking endeavors fail because people have poor task selection. If you try to check your email while on the phone, what do you expect will happen? Both require a significant investment of energy and concentration. You just can’t give each activity the attention it needs to get quality results.

As an example, here are 4 of the strategic pairs that I've been using for a number of years:

  • Activity 1: brushing teeth (low concentration)
  • Activity 2: reading (high concentration)
  • Strategic Pair: read a few pages as I brush my teeth
  • Advantage: I get to read when I would have otherwise been doing nothing. Sometimes, I end up brushing for 5-10 minutes straight. This results in great oral hygiene!

  • Activity 1: studying for a test (high concentration)
  • Activity 2: jogging/walking (low concentration)
  • Strategic Pair: listen to lectures on my iPod while jogging
  • Advantage: I get a great deal of studying done while I exercise. This cuts down on both exercise time and study time!

  • Activity 1: do the laundry (low concentration)
  • Activity 2: talk on the phone (high concentration)
  • Strategic Pair: fold laundry while on speaker phone with a friend
  • Advantage: I can catch up with my friends while I get a boring chore out of the way. Also, talking on the phone makes folding laundry much more fun!

  • Activity 1: commuting to work/school (low concentration)
  • Activity 2: reflecting on the day ahead (high concentration)
  • Strategic Pair: plan for potential challenges that I may face and how I can solve potential problems
  • Advantage: I come to school and work more mentally prepared and focused. I also feel much more confident about the day ahead!

Those are a few of my personal strategic pairs. Of course, depending on your lifestyle, yours will be different, but the principle is exactly the same.

Each strategic pair will save you a little bit of time each day. Personally, I have about 15 of these pairs. The little bits of time that I save with each pair save me a huge amount of time in the long run. An added bonus is that my chores feel much less tedious and boring because I have associated a fun activity with them (like talking with a friend while folding laundry).

I suggest that you start small. Only implement a few pairs in the beginning. As you feel more comfortable and as the pairs become habits, you can try adding more.

If you feel that you have a pair that isn’t working well, try reevaluating it. Often, the problem is that you have paired two activities that require too much concentration.

Take risks,

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