No, I don’t want to give up on this topic. But I want to clarify something: Multitasking is an effect - a result of the system in which we find ourselves. In order to “stop multitasking”, the system has to change. And this is where we get to apply some thinking - what can we change in the system?
Reminder: Multitasking is doing a bunch of stuff without getting anything DONE. There is no problem with completing a bunch of thing sequentially - even if at the end of the day I did multiple things.
This thinking is inspired by an Inc.com article, Want to Improve Your Memory? A Decade-Long Stanford Study Suggests You Should Stop Doing This 1 Thing by Nate Klemp on 20 Aug 2019. The subtitle gives a familiar description, “Researchers find that spending less time multitasking may be the key to improving cognitive performance and memory.”
But the challenge is that multitasking is the result of the way we operate. It isn’t necessarily a choice for a lot of people, at least that is the way it seems. (It’s also the cause of a host of problems that many people write about.) The big causes are too much work released (too much Work In Process), and then the work that is released isn’t really ready to go. So what happens? I’ll start on one thing, discover it isn’t ready or is missing some key piece of information, so I just jump to something else on my plate. No point telling anyone about the problem, because there is plenty of work for me to do while I wait for the missing pieces. This happens over and over. And of course, I am not working in a bubble - people call and stop by to ask question and drop other work on my lap.
So getting to less multitasking is about changing the way in which we work. Yes, there are the habit changes around setting up quiet time and “focus time” and the 20-minute apple timer (or whatever time box you pick). These habits around focus will certainly be helpful. But to me these are all temporary fixes - when I come out of the focus mode, there is still a pile of “stuff” staring at me and giving me plenty of opportunities to flitter from item to item without getting anything done. In order to reduce the incentive to multitask there needs to be less staring me in the face.
Don’t release so much work: this applies everywhere from the individual activities to projects to portfolios of projects. The level of control differs, but we can all start somewhere. (This doesn’t mean the work doesn’t need to get done - it just gets released in a way to provide better flow.) Many approaches can help here from Getting Things Done to Personal Kanban at the personal level; to Critical Chain Project Management; to Agile (and its relatives). Another version of this is “start finishing; stop starting”.
When you release work, make sure it is ready for successful completion. All the information, funding, people, etc will be available (approximately) when needed so that the work doesn’t get stuck in the middle of execution. We want to enable focus and finish. Flow.
And of course, when there is critical work, find ways to practice those habits and get in the flow of finishing.