Multi-tasking used to be my favourite way to get ahead.
During my PhD I saw others around me working extremely long hours in the lab and not really having much of a personal life and quite early on I made the decision that this was not for me.
Although I enjoy my work, having a good life outside the is also very important. Also, I found that if I worked very long hours then I tended to be far less efficient overall.
But, I still wanted to get through as many experiments as possible. So I also made the decision that my approach would be to work a regular 8 hour day and be as efficient as possible during that time. My basic recipe for an efficient working day was:
1. Good time planning
3. Efficient and accurate record keeping
4. Short breaks (!)
Most of this worked quite well, but in retrospect the multi-tasking part was not a good idea, at least to the extent I took it to.
My aim in multi-tasking was to fill every part of the working day with something useful. So I would normally have several experiments going on at once and flit between them in a packed schedule. Gaps in the schedule were filled with the other necessaries: writing up, reading, making solutions.
I definitely got through a lot of experiments that way. But that was the only good thing that such a packed schedule delivered.
Multi-tasking with few gaps in the day made me stressed, error-prone and took the enjoyment out of the job. That’s not surprising looking at it now, but at the time I thought it was the best way to work.
A quick Google search on multi-tasking brings up a whole host of articles highlighting the inefficiency of multi-tasking (see here, for example – both contain links to other useful articles including primary literature). Apparently the brain takes a certain amount of time to switch between tasks, so constant switching means constantly losing time and train-of-thought.
These days I still multi-task – although your brain is not designed for it, there’s no way around it. But I pay close attention to the number of tasks I am juggling. Where possible I perform only one or two experiments in parallel, and guess what? I have a much higher rate of success, and much less stress than before.
What do you think of multi-tasking?