June 15

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Don’t multitask if you want success

By Ralph Varcoe

June 15, 2020

productivity hacks

1.14   Bin the Swiss Army Knife Approach

Productivity hack no.14 from '60 Ways to Hurray! by Ralph Varcoe.


A Swiss Army Knife is a real wonder tool. The Daddy of all multi-tools that makes a Leatherman look impoverished by comparison.

The array of tools is vast. Who knew there was such a thing to get stones out of hooves, or one to undo shackle pins? If you look hard enough you'll find a bread maker, I'm sure. It's brilliant. Why lug a toolbox with you when one admittedly rather bulky knife thing will turn you into a superhero.

Only, here's the thing. While it can do about a thousand different things it can't do more than one at a time. Try unscrewing something at the same time as filing your nails. Or cutting a piece of paper while sawing a dowelling rod. Useless. Utterly useless.

It's the same for us. We are just a big walking, talking version. Only a lot smarter.

Now before you attempt to prove how smart you are by telling me that we can all multi-task like a boss because we can eat, blink, breathe and watch EastEnders at the same time, these aren't multi-tasks. They are all autopilot functions. Even watching EastEnders!

And then there are those who will say “Paff…..only someone who doesn’t have a family could possibly suggest that life can be anything other than a multi-tasking hell!” I have a family and, for a man (let’s get that stereotype out there as well while we’re at it!), am as able to help with homework, cook a meal, attend a conference call, and polish the silver, as the next person.

But it won’t be the best meal I’ve ever cooked. I won’t have heard/listened to everything that went on during the call. I may well have made a mistake in year 6 maths homework. And the silver won’t be as shiny as it could have been had I been giving it my full attention.

It’s not to say that multi-tasking isn’t a necessary evil. But it is to say that if you want to drive a particular goal hard then you need to get on the monorail and do one thing and one thing only while you’re doing it.

In experiments conducted in 2001, scientists looked at the time cost of switching between tasks. Moving between even fairly basic tasks showed it took longer to complete a set compared to a control group. When the tasks got more complex the group switching between tasks took even longer. The scientists concluded that even brief mental blocks resulting from shifts between tasks can waste up to 40% of productive time.

If you are serious about focusing on completing your goal then why not give yourself that 40% back by eliminating every other task while you’re doing it. Do just one thing and make it count.

Multi-tasking for anyone who wants to accelerate their success is a seriously bad idea.

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Ralph Varcoe

About the author

For over 20 years, Ralph has run sales and marketing teams across large enterprises and smaller start-ups, at companies such as Orange, Tata Communications, Virgin Media, Spirit Ai and others. He brings a wealth of experience in personal and professional development with a laser focus on enabling people to achieve more than they thought possible. He's a published author and musician with a passion for creating - be that change, the right solution, exciting campaigns, the right environment for customers to succeed, or podcasts, videos and written content.

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