multi-tasking in the news

Over a year ago I wrote about the muda of multi-tasking and the delays it will inevitably cause. I had been prompted by the planning approach used by my client at the time, and by a rush of articles in various blogs and magazines, and this week it’s happening all over again. Kathy Sierra discusses a recent cover story in Time magazine (and there’s lots to read in the comments on her blog, too). And a quick search on Technorati suggests the article has opened another flood of blogging on the subject.

multi For me, the best explanation of the problems caused by multi-tasking still come from the Theory of Constraints world. A good straightforward description of the theory can be found in Frank Patrick’s Multi-tasking Multiplies Lead Time. ToC shows that multi-tasking slows down every task we’re working on – and that’s in addition to the psychological effects reported above.

When I adopted David Allen’s Getting Things Done, one of the first changes I made was to fix my email so that it only updated twice each day. I was addicted to intermittent variable reinforcement, and to be truthful I probably still am. It’s an invidious form of multi-tasking, because it seems as if I’m only checking email, webstats, bloglines etc during “breaks”. Unfortunately, if there’s something interesting to read the break expands and delays whatever I was supposed to be doing. Time to find a cure and remove this one source of muda from my day…

Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints shows why multi-tasking delays everything we do and everyone who needs to work with us. Over a year later, I still haven’t learned that lesson.

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