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September 07, 2005


Crikey! Just last night I was berating myself for not doing a good job while multi-tasking and vowing to do anything I can to do focus on things in bigger chunks. Today as I finished my (very )late lunch - my lovely husband sent me this link.

My working life has been mainly in the years post 2000 so for me multi-tasking is less a fad of the 90s and more "just the way people work". I can't imagine I'm alone on that one.

Somehow though, multi-tasking (not that we called it that) as a student was so much less draining despite the fact that from one hour to the next I would switch between languagues and histories or literature of different continents. Perhaps the love of it or the stimulation of learning made it more do-able or perhaps it's just the fact that there were still chunks of time where I could get my head down and muse on the topic of this weeks essay. None of these factors are missing from my working life, it's just the way they are organised and perhaps my motivation for doing them that is different.

Anyhow - putting nostalgia aside - last night I felt like a freak or a failure for wanting to focus on one thing at a time. Now I'm thinking over what my boss's reaction to "stop already" would be. And I shall be chunking regardless - ha! Cheers Lisa!

I came late in life to the business world and then the business world wasn't sure it wanted me. My first opportunity was at a mall store (yes, it had come to that!) called Franklin Covey. A very good experience and the first place I learned about "chunking".

Perhaps it is in recognizing the moment? To chunk or not to chunk -- that is the question!

I'm not too big on rules, but what would be some possible guidlines for recognizing when to multi-task and when to chunk?

Maybe something like...if it involves sharp objects you might want to chunk.

Sidenote: I THOUGHT I heard a bit of accent in Donna's comment above and sure enough...

This is awesome! Thanks for adding your energy to the chunking express. I applied it today too, even though I had a few people distract me, I was able to key in on one theme and made much better progress.

Donna, give the "enough already!" a try, but take Michael's advice and be sure the scissors are put away.

I also think there is something interesting in the thought that focusing, or sorta focusing (which is what chucking is, focus for the real world), is really about going an inch wide and mile deep. And it can apply to groups and teams. More on this topic to come...

I agree with you 100%, and I think modern neuroscience totally backs you up on this. But good luck selling it. It's a counterintuitive notion to most people, and they aren't open to the idea that they aren't great multitaskers.


But how can we convince our managers? Are there any studies done with quantifiable results?

Actually, there are studies that a few of the authors I spoke to mentioned. I will check my notes. But the other thing is that you can negotiate with your manager starting with semi-chunks (one hour blocks) and work up from there. The vast majority of managers just want the results. If you can do this and more effectively use time by chunking, they should come around.

Rob - perhaps you don't start be selling it. Perhaps you start by just doing it a little at a time. Most bosses are oblivious to what we do in a day anyway, right? :-) When we become rockin' productive, they won't care what we do.

I couldn't agree more on the suggestion to just start doing it rather than selling it - I'm seeing results already and can't imagine anyone is going to complain! Obviously much depends on the kind of job you do/industry you work in as to whether you can change your working style under the radar or not.

I'm actually in a privileged position - my boss does trust me to get on with things and I have plenty of room for setting my own agenda. Despite the frivolous "stop already" comment, I must do the honourable thing and confess that really its down to me and I've been sucked into a particular way of working. No-one is really twisting my arm to stay that way.

Where I need to say "stop" is on the number of projects that are added to the list (saying no has always been a weakness of mine). I'll do well to note that there's a difference - I can control how I do my work and even if I have less control over my workload, and the fact is I can do something about that too.

... see, no sharp objects in sight!

On the nostaligia for my student days front, I've been working from home today (perfect chunking time) and found that listening to music that I listened to back then helped me stay in chunking mode :-)

I'm sure that the environment that you work in does infect you with a particular frame of mind (for good or for not-so-good) so for any would-be chunkers out there who (like me) are struggling to actually do it in practice, maybe changing something about your environment will help - even something small like a picture on your desk or making a pot of tea rather than a mug of coffee (it'll last longer).

Anyway, time for the next chunk...

Donna - Awesome follow-up. thanks. I think saying "no," is a challenge for many people. In a way it is counterintuitive because we want to do a good job and deep down inside, doing a good job means doing what is asked of us. Unfortunately when we agree to too many things, we can only do them half-assed and don't give any project our best. It has only been in the last 4 years that I have gotten better at saying no and I am still challenged with it to some degree.

"saying no is the beginning of a conversation, not the end". pg. 28 The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block.

Block's book is a bit of a challenge but I am starting to think he has a contribution to make to the "chunking" issue.

His opening chapters argue that pragmatism is a way of resisting doing creative and meaningful work. Isn't chunking about getting really important work done?

Again, not an easy read, but I have found great help in this book.

Good challenge Lisa. I'm working on doing more single, high-impact tasking and less of the multi, easily interruptable and non-productive, tasking. Good reminder.

I'm loving the concept and practice the more I try it and think about it!

Need more proof? DISCOVER magazine reported (August 2005 issue) about a recent study conducted for Hewlett-Packard that found that British workers’ IQ test scores dip by about 10 points when juggling phones, e-mails, and other electronic messages ... that is, when MULTI-TASKING.

According to the article, that's more of an IQ drop than occurs after smoking marijuana or losing a night’s sleep!

Wow - that's fascinating - more than when smoking pot, huh? That's a lot. Thanks for the reference, I will look for the article.

Barry - thanks for the DISCOVER magazine tip! Both helpful and funny. The subject of chunking seems to be one of those presenting issues that reveals lots of systemic issues and false assumptions that need to be examined.

And thanks to Lisa for the provocative post.

Chunk happens!

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