Slow motion multitasking

I like this idea a lot, and I think it has a lot of truth in it (Tim Harford TED talk):

A lot of people’s anti-akratic attention is on sticking to single-tasking, but I think the timescale of that is important: it’s a few hours (by which I mean that’s the order of magnitude: it’s about 2 hours, not ten or a hundred times more). Longer than that, multi-tasking is a good thing. This may strike you as obvious, but I think I don’t apply it as much as I should: there are plenty of things I want to do that I could start doing in small ways that I haven’t started yet, without “losing momentum”.

Another way it’s not really obvious: At work, there’s a dogma that often pops up that you should never work on more than one chunk of work at a time, for tasks that take days to complete. I think it’s pretty clear that’s not true: working on a task like that for the whole day sometimes just sees you get asymptotically slower towards the end of the day or in the “afternoon dip”, when you could still make reasonable progress on a second or third task.

Some areas where I think this idea is useful:

  • creative thought of any kind
  • learning
  • anything where you’re likely to be stuck at times
  • anything where you might get demotivated by too much of it
  • high priority / urgent projects that your brain just can’t focus on for big chunks of time, so you need other things to break them up
  • big long term projects
  • things involving multiple “long poles” (long pole often means “the longest pole”, but here I just mean something where there are multiple long lead times)
  • in fact any timescale much longer than a few hours

By the way Tim Harford has a great Radio 4 program/podcast “More or less” – (“A look at numbers and statistics used in political debate, the news and everyday life”)