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The Multitasking Dilemma

. . . and rethink what you do with it. Does multitasking really get anything done?

This story appears in the August 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Ah, "multitasking"-the golden buzzword with almost mandatory inclusion in resumes and job descriptions alike. While it conjures visions of well-organized individuals juggling a multitude of responsibilities with ease, is it really all it's cracked up to be? Recent studies show that this once-touted ability may actually be detrimental to efficiency.

To find out for sure, we asked productivity specialist Mark Ellwood, founder of Pace Productivity Inc. in Toronto, to convince a chronic multitasker he could actually be more focused and effective by doing (gasp!) one thing at a time. Our guinea pig-entrepreneur Richard Laermer, founder and CEO of New York City's RLM Public Relations-has penned three books and is working on his next, Exposure Level; hosts the "Guerilla Consumer" segment on National Public Radio; and serves as board director for charity Stretched to the limit, Laermer swears by multitasking to keep up with his hectic schedule. Recognizing the multiple directions in which Laermer's life is pulled, Ellwood suggested he identify high-priority activities, carve out time for them every day and let nothing else interfere. These "A" priorities should be planned first. For instance, Laermer would never get to work on the book if he always allowed his to take over, so Ellwood recommended he block out a certain amount of time each day (preferably an hour) to concentrate on writing: "By blocking time, one can prevent most, though not all, interruptions." During this time, Ellwood urged, Laermer should also separate himself from the pager he uses to send his daily 350-plus e-mails.

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