Is multitasking a valid work style?

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Lisa Crilley Mallis’ post, Are you making this common multitasking mistake? was quite a hit! To explore this topic from another angle, here’s a post I originally wrote for From the Desk of Janet Barclay.

Multitasking mom with her daughter

Photo by diego_cervo / Crestock

While speaking to a group about the correlation between personality type and organizing style, I said that Intuitive types are frequently multi-taskers, and that working on one thing at a time may be counterproductive for some. One of the audience members disagreed, stating that no one can be an efficient multi-tasker, and to think otherwise is self-deception.

In my presentation, I wasn’t really talking about a person who reads their email while talking on the phone, knits while watching television, or (shudder) texts while driving. I was actually thinking of the description in the Larry Demarest’s Looking at Type in the Workplace, where he says,

A person who prefers intuition… works in bursts, awaits inspiration, may skip around, pursuing what “strikes my fancy”

Since only about 25% of the population are Intuitives, it’s not surprising that the idea that this work style can be effective would be foreign to the remaining 75% who are Sensors. The majority of time management experts stress the importance of making a prioritized list and working through it sequentially, and for most people, this works well, but it’s important to realize that we’re not all the same.

If your brain just won’t connect with the first item on your to-do list, you could waste hours trying to get it done while your mind keeps considering other possibilities. Instead, if you allow yourself to work on what most inspires and excites you at the moment, you can be very productive. There is a chance that you’ll fizzle out before you finish, but rather than banging your head against your desk in frustration, you can put that project aside until it calls you again, and move on to something else.

I suppose this isn’t technically “multitasking” since you are only working on one task at any given moment, but what should we call it? “Serial tasking” perhaps? The important thing is not to label it, but to recognize it as a valid work style that may or may not be right for you or your client.

To learn more about personality type and organizing style, order Looking at Type in the Workplace or one of the other books in the Learning Style / Personality Type Department of the Bookstore for Professional Organizers.

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A former professional organizer, I now eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

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  1. Avatar Melodee Patterson on July 27, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    What’s it called when you start one project, have the buzzer go off on the clothes dryer, start another project when you get back to your desk after folding the clothes, get called to the front door by a delivery guy, start another project when you get back to your desk… ?

  2. Avatar Janet Barclay on July 27, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    That is called a Really Bad Day.

  3. Avatar Melodee Patterson on July 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    How about “workus interruptus”? 🙂

  4. Avatar Janet Barclay on July 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Yes, that just might be the official term for it.

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