Problems with Multitasking

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigfile4421234854056

We had a winter storm in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago.  Winter storms in NC are a big deal.  There are a few reasons for that. For one, everything shuts down…there’s no school, no businesses open, and no one at work.  Since these are rare occurrences in the  Charlotte area, there’s not much in the budget for clearing the streets. So…the stuff sticks around until it melts. The problem is that it gets warm enough during the days (45-50 degree F) to melt and then goes back below freezing at night and refreezes the stuff. Then everyone slips all over the road on black ice.

My husband called me on his way home from work right before the storm hit and asked if we needed anything.  I said no, that I’d run a slew of errands all day and we were fine.

My teenaged daughter was listening to our phone  conversation.  “Why is Dad even asking?  Doesn’t he know it’s you? You’re always prepared.”

It’s true that I’m a bit of a Girl Scout.  But then, I was a Girl Scout.

My daughter added something else.  “You’re so organized that you’re disorganized.”

I had to think about that one for a minute.  But then I realized that she was right.  I have a tendency to get into a frenetic pace and hop from one task to another, remembering something that needs urgent (or seemingly needs urgent) attention right when I’m in the middle of another task.

It’s multitasking. And, while I can multitask anything if vacuuming is one of the tasks, when it comes to things that require careful thought, I need more focus.  What’s more, multitasking makes me stressed out and generally unpleasant to be around.  I’ve also learned that, for me, multitasking usually isn’t as effective as focusing on and knocking out a single task.

Apps and Smart Calendar Use Help Avoid Multitasking 


What’s helping is my attempt to prioritize tasks and my (new) understanding that I need to assign some tasks farther into the future. For example, I saw a cool article by CS Lakin on Jane Friedman’s blog and decided, “Yeah, this is really important. Have they changed the book description “show more” that much?” And I dropped everything and started working on it.  But I didn’t NEED to. Everything isn’t an emergency. I need to slow down this fast pace I’m setting.

This time, instead of multitasking or dropping one task to pick up another, I put it on my calendar to review on a future day.

The main tool that I use for keeping things on schedule is Google Calendar. It’s free and, since I have it on my phone, I always have it with me. I particularly like the “week” view on the calendar. When I see an opening, I  click on the day to create an event, and then type in whatever task I need to take care of. This makes me feel relieved immediately–that I don’t have to remember the task, and that I’m on my way to addressing it.


Another tool that I use for both general organization and my blog editorial calendar is One Note (which came included with my Microsoft Office bundle, but you can also download it…it’s free).  Sometimes when I’m doing business-related work or working on my book, I will get ideas for things that I want to share on my blog.  That’s when I add the post idea to a page in my Blog Notebook on One Note (One Note is set up with a notebook and page structure.  Although I like Evernote and use it for a lot of different things, for some reason the way you have to do “stacks” on Evernote doesn’t work as well for me as the old notebook/page system in One Note.

A new app that I’m using is Remember the Milk.  It’s free and integrates with online calendars like iCal and Google Calendar. You add tasks to be completed and a reminder will be emailed to you.  The tasks will also show up in the sidebar of your calendar.  I like the app and I’ve been using it for the past few weeks.  But I’m not sure it adds any additional functionality to my original system of adding tasks as events on Google Calendar. I guess the lesson there is…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But if you don’t have an established method of handling tasks, I think this is a great tool to try.

Another free app/site I’m using is 135 List.  It helps me prioritize my tasks each day.  So far it’s been a useful additional tool to supplement what I’ve already been doing. And it helps me remember what’s most important to complete instead of my scrambling around thinking everything is an emergency.

So now I’m not so organized that I’m disorganized. :)  How do you keep your tasks straight and keep from getting overwhelmed with your workload?

Apps can help us avoid problematic multitasking: Click To Tweet

Image: MorgueFile: Seemann

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13 thoughts on “Problems with Multitasking

  1. I have no apps. Then again, I only have a dumbphone. But I’m home like 90% of the time, so it works for me. The problem I have with similar programs for my desktop is I forget to open the program more often than not. I’m in the organizational ’80s. I keep a calendar above my desk for the big things, a day planner on my desk for smaller important things, and a notepad for my to-do list. Otherwise I have to trust on my memory, which isn’t always the best idea given my sieve-like brain. Smaller less-important things often get left by the wayside, and down the road I’m all ‘crap, I forgot that’.

    I’m pretty good about not feeling overwhelmed. Unless it’s getting close to book release day. Since all this is on me, I can start to feel a little like the quicksand is winning sometimes. I try to take it back to ‘one thing at a time’ until all the things have been addressed.

    1. B.E.–I think I’d get a lot more done if I had a dumbphone. :)

      I think that, if we have a system that works for us, we should stick with it! Maybe just build on what we already have in place, to make it even more useful for us.

      I like your “one thing at a time” philosophy. I think that mindset would help me.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, Elizabeth. Sometimes when you’re really organized, you make time for so many things that you can’t possibly keep track of them all. And today’s culture, with its relentless pressure and rewarding of ‘getting things done’ doesn’t help. That’s where I think we have to set priorities and boundaries. A manageable list of things to do each day helps (at least me) to keep focus. So does doing as much as possible automatically (e.g. my blog posts feed automatically into my social media sites).

  3. So many things will pop up over the course of a day. But you’re right, most aren’t an emergency. That’s why I keep a to-do list by my computer. I’ll just add it where I think it will fit.

  4. Hi Elizabeth – I’m so glad to meet you – donkeys’ years ago a boyfriend called me the most disorganised person he’d ever met – I never quite got over it. Still I get lots done – or perhaps used to …

    Thank goodness for my brain and being able to remember most things … but I must get more organised perhaps Mother Donkey will come back to help?!

    Cheers – have a good weekend – Hilary

  5. I use Outlook 365 for my calendar. It’s what we use at the office, so that’s what I connect into with all of my apps. I do import it into Google calendar, because Google is what we use for kiddo’s and hubby’s schedules. I am the keep of the schedules, since they are not great about entering things into their calendars. On my devices, I can see all of the schedules together, or turn them off just to see mine. I can also see my boss’s calendar, the school calendar, and the church calendar.

    I have specific times that are set aside for writing, and during those times I need to work just on my writing assignment for that time, and not anything else. Timed sprints can help to keep me on task. If other things come up during those times, I just write them down and continue writing without switching to something else.

    Those other jobs, I can push into timeslots when I have time for busywork, I can do formatting while hubby and I watch a movie, I can do research later in the evenings when my brain is too worn out for writing, etc.

    I use Evernote for keeping notes and for my task lists. It works really well for me. If I am reading an article that prompts me with something I need to add to my task list, I can just use the web clipper to clip it directly to my task list, and keep working. Ditto excerpts from Facebook that remind me of some new promotional strategy I need to look into. And of course, if I read an article or something else that would make a good story idea, I clip it directly to my Story Clip File for future reference.

    I also use Remember the Milk, but only for grocery shopping.

    Something that I started doing in December is using a paper planner and journal. I started with one that had been developed by someone else, but have made adaptations and generated a new format for myself. So each new month I go through my calendar and write in my paper planner those big important things that I need to plan around. And each week I do a review of the previous week and plan for the upcoming week, writing my goals for the week and again writing out my schedule for the week. And each day, I set goals for the day, write out that day’s schedule, and at the end of the day evaluate my day, plan for the next day, and write a journal entry. I print out my task list from Evernote and insert it into my (3 ring) planner.

    Why all of this writing down of schedules when I already have everything on my computer and phone? Because it engages my brain. It renews my commitment to do the things that I write down. There’s a big difference between glancing at your schedule on the computer/phone each day and actually engaging with your schedule and writing down your commitment to do those things. And there are things I write on my day’s schedule that are not in my calendar. All of my appointments are there, but when am I going to write? When am I going to run? What time is open for homeschooling? When am I going to block out time with my family? Actually writing those things out on my weekly and daily schedules ensures that I have blocked out the time to do them.

    1. P.D: I like timed sprints, too. :) Helps me to keep focus if I’m writing in very brief, intense stretches.

      I use Evernote for much the same things you do, although my use is more tweaked to clipping writing articles (craft and business) and recipes. I have a HUGE collection of recipes on Evernote. Very useful tool.

      I’m interested that you started using a paper planner when you’re so clearly adapted to digital. I sometimes have to do the same and look at a wall calendar. I admit– I have a hard time really *seeing* schedule conflicts when I’m using my digital calendar. Even when they’re right in front of me.

      Your schedule puts mine to shame! I have one in college now, and life has drastically simplified from having two at home. :)

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