Once, during a company meeting, our CEO Bob La Loggia, offering up a compliment on my ability to juggle multiple development projects, announced, “In the hierarchy of multitasking ability, there are men, then there are women, and then there is Nate.” I took pride in “wearing multiple hats,” and being critically involved in multiple projects as a software developer. I wanted to own everything. I thought that by doing so, I was providing the ultimate value to my employer.
Since then, I’ve learned that while one can definitely do many things at once, it’s almost always true that one can only do one of those things well. Something will suffer.
A few years later, in my role as Development Manager, I thought I had improved on my ability to focus on doing one thing well. However, I discovered that I had fallen back into the same bad multitasking habits. In fact, the technology made available to me enabled those bad habits.
It happened when my laptop was up for replacement. I was given several models to choose from, and immediately gravitated toward the most monstrous of them all: a 17-inch Dell™ XPS™ desktop. This machine was a beast. It could handle anything I threw at it. It was the ultimate multitasking machine! Paired with my 24-inch second monitor, there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do.
My typical morning routine started with going through the dozens of emails I’d received that morning, signing into several other work tools, opening ten browser tabs for various purposes, launching my to-do list app, opening at least two or three instances of my IDE and, of course, responding to the barrage of instant messages that greeted me. Aside from the fans spinning up like a NASA shuttle launch, my beast of a laptop didn’t bat an eye.
I was being uber-productive—or so I thought.
But before too long, I started to notice things were slipping through the cracks. I was failing to follow through on tasks I had committed to, and failing to follow up on requests I’d made of others. I couldn’t keep up. I was spending my days lost, ALT+Tabbing through a maze of applications and activities. My thought processes were as scattered as my desktop icons. But unlike my wonder of a laptop, I didn’t have a hyper-threaded quad core processor to manage it all.
Something had to change.
Coincidentally, at about this same time, I had purchased a 10-inch 2-in-1 Windows® tablet that I would use at home in place of lugging around my usual laptop. When my laptop began having battery issues, I started bringing my tablet to work as a backup. That’s when my life changed.
This tablet was extremely limited in what it could handle in terms of multitasking. As a matter of fact, if I had more than a couple applications open at one time, it would become almost impossible to use. It forced me to either complete the current task, or close the application and return to the task later. Therein lies the revelation that has shaped how I now work on a daily basis. I guess you could say that, in my case, it was a lack of technology that shaped me.
I spent the next several weeks working almost exclusively from my tablet. I developed a new habit of delaying work on items that could wait until later, or completing a task in its entirety before moving onto something else.
What I observed as a result is that I was much more effective at following through. I had fewer items left “hanging” at the end of any given week.
I had become more productive.
I have since moved on from my old laptop to new MacBook Pro® computer. With the new toy came the temptation to fall back into the multitasking trap. Apple’s multi-desktop feature coupled with my second monitor meant I could achieve exponentially higher levels of multitasking than before.
However, whenever I find myself minimizing a window, launching another application, or adding a new desktop, I ask myself two simple questions:
- Am I finished with my current task?
- Is what I am about to start more important than what I’m already working on, or can it wait until later?
I know there’s been a lot of research done and a plethora of articles written regarding good productivity habits, and many encourage a similar approach. I’ve read many of those. However, it wasn’t until I experienced an actual physical limitation that it really clicked for me. Now, I can’t imagine myself working any other way.
My little 10-inch 2-in-1 tablet has had a tremendous impact on my career, probably more than any other piece of software or hardware I’ve ever used.