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The True Time Cost Of Multitasking

Source | FastCompany : By LAURA VANDERKAM

In the interest of knowing where my day really goes, I have been tracking my time for the past 15 months. I use spreadsheets with half-hour blocks. That keeps this project manageable, but this method does have a downside: losing detail. When I write “work” for 30 minutes, was I really working for the entire 30 minutes?

In this era of constant connectivity, the answer is probably no, something new time-tracking apps can reveal. We are starting to learn the true time cost of multitasking. It’s pretty steep, but knowing the cost, by itself, can change a lot.

Anna Winterstein, cofounder of the app Smarter Time, knew that “our intuitive appreciation of our time is generally quite wrong,” but she also wanted a way to track time in a way that “wouldn’t take away from our lives as a timesheet would do.”

Smarter Time (currently in beta) functions somewhat like a personal assistant to whom you’d teach things. You type in what you’re doing for a few days, and then the app learns, based on location, and your habits, what you’re probably doing during any given block of time. At that point, “You need to spend one minute correcting obvious mistakes, but that’s about it,” says Winterstein.

A PERSISTENT PUZZLE

She was one of the first testers. She hoped the app would help her solve one of her persistent time puzzles. She seemed to be working all the time, to the point of not doing many fun evening activities any more. During the day, “I’d work for two hours, and hadn’t been very productive, but I didn’t think it was because I hadn’t worked enough in terms of time. I chalked it up to maybe not having the right methods. I didn’t think the small breaks I was taking on social media were adding up to that much.”

Her app revealed otherwise. Every 10-15 minutes she would break from her work and check something else. Each small break was just two or three minutes, but still, “that’s about 20% of my working time,” she says. And it gets worse. After a break, it took her a few minutes to get back into what she was doing. Studies of interruptions have found that task resumption is seldom immediate. Winterstein reports, “I was probably working five minutes of every 15 minutes productively.” In other words, any given hour of work translated into a mere 20 minutes of “real” work. No wonder she felt distracted, stressed, and like she wasn’t getting anything done.

Read On…

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