Focus: and the myth of multitasking

21 Oct

So I’m two and a half weeks into a new job, which is exciting: mostly because the organisation has lots of opportunities to have (more) impact, and has great, committed people to achieve that. Going back into a full-time job in an organisation has got me thinking about my approach / working methods, as well. I think freelancing helped improve my discipline (clarity on objectives, effective meetings, hit deadlines, invoice!), and I don’t want to lose that impetus and focus on delivery.

Such thoughts took me back to a recent visit (thanks to Liam Black and the Wavelength team) to the BBC, at which we heard from Ralph Rivera, who heads up all their online / digital work (Director of BBC Future Media, to be precise). There were plenty of nuggets from Ralph, but one I wrote down during the morning session was:

Focus on a few things / do them well (in the long-term) / get great at them / (kill the rest)

I hasten to add that those were my notes and not exactly Ralph’s words, and that the ‘kill the rest’ was very much tongue in cheek. But the point holds: the BBC could do any number of things in connection to digital, but that would mean distraction, a potential drop in quality, and scattered activity.

Someone else was pointing out to me that this is connected to the “myth of multitasking“; research increasingly shows that multitasking is not productive, that it just spreads activity across the surface of several things, rather than making substantive progress on one at a time. There is even some research that says that multitasking could actually be harmful to mental health, particularly where technology is concerned.

Which meant that this image below, via Kevin Jones, resonated strongly (comes from here). Now I just need to follow it, focus, do stuff well, and do it in the long-term…

3 Responses to “Focus: and the myth of multitasking”

  1. Annalisa O'Carroll October 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Good luck in the new job Nick – sounds perfect for you and you for them. Love the mind map – it’s on the wall now while I answer email, scan our twitter feed, write the weekly report and answer the phone…now what was I saying?

  2. Tim Hargis December 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    I almost want to know what the exact definition of “multitasking” is that is used for the study. Mostly because I’ve seen some people who are incredible at multitasking and handling multiple time-sensative situations at once, and others who really don’t make any progress. Either way it’s worth looking into, so thanks for the post and good luck with the job.


  1. Man on a ledge: achieving life-work balance « Nick Temple - March 4, 2012

    […] prioritisation is everything (see previous post on the myth of multitasking); there’s a reason why this is the first blog post in three months or so, and the non-urgent […]

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