Thursday, November 29, 2012


Deft (adj):  clever, efficient, nimble, proficient

One of the lessons I have learned in the last year (especially in the last six months) is the difference been multitasking and multiplying.

When a person multitasks, their focus is split between several things for a period of time, sometimes an extended period of time.  One example:  talking to someone on the phone (50% of your focus) and cooking dinner (50 % of your focus).  Multitasking may seem effective since you are doing more things at the same time, but it is actually detrimental to accomplishing anything.  When I put 50% focus or effort into something I am doing, it doesn't take me twice as long, but actually three or four times as long because my brain gets tired so much faster form handling too many things at once.

Math aside, my seven years in college and grad school is proof of this phenomenon.  When I sat alone working on a paper (or homework), I not only completed the work more quickly, but I produced better quality work.  When I had people around, or when I was trying to cook or clean while working, it took much longer and I produced poor work.

However, there is a concept of putting intentional effort into something to accomplish more at one time.  while many people try to do this through multitasking, this concept is an entirely separate idea.  I call it multiplying.  Multiplying is when you put the same amount of effort into a project, but (through planning or being intentional) you produce more than usual.

When I think about this principle, I remember having to make a bulletin board project my Junior year of college.  I was stamping construction paper letters to make a Bible verse in the school's library.  I had been smart enough to add up how many of each letter I needed (instead of stamping word by word, but after an hour, I was only halfway done.  The librarian came over and showed me a trick to go fast.  While you were not allowed to place more than one page into the machine, she told me to fold the paper in half while stamping.  Each stamp produced two letters instead of one.  This is multiplying.

Here's another example:  I wanted to make Hamburger Helper for lunch.  Instead of browning one pound of ground beef (which takes 15-20 min), I decided to cook the five pounds I had (which took about 35-40 min).  While it was cooking, I prepped containers to freeze the extra meat for meals later this week.  For an extra 20 minutes, I produced four extra meals.

There is such a big difference between the two, but it takes planning, thought, and discipline to choose to focus when necessary (quit multitasking) and to think about multiplying to be effective and efficient.  For me, this meant moving my work area when necessary, changing around my schedule several times, prioritizing, streamlining, and even asking for help.  But what I have gained is freedom:  freedom to do what I want with my time, freedom to spend more time with my family/friends than on tasks, and freedom to relax and take care of myself instead of chasing a To Do List.

While I have so much to learn and need much more discipline in this area, knowing the difference and striving for change is a great first step.

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