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The Great Multi-Tasking Debate

Whenever I manage to respond to an e-mail within minutes of receiving it, I like to imagine that the person on the other end of the message is dazzled by the speediness of my reply. Their eyes widen in astonishment as they realize my ability to communicate alongside other tasks with such vigor, and their own modes of digital communication are inspired forever afterward.

Yeah, it’s a pretty good time here inside my head.

Of course, most people don’t really react this way. Multi-tasking is becoming less impressive and more expected with each passing year, as even the biggest names are beginning to adapt and adopt.

Goliath Google Support

Par exemple, Big G seems hell bent on tying the Plus experience into all things Google, which most recently includes — for the first time ever! — real disruption to the main page. The message is clear: search is coequal with sharing.

Personally, I didn’t think much of the change until some serious criticisms started popping up on my radar, including one from Sarah Lacy, founder of PandoDaily and former senior editor at TechCrunch.

“Sure, teasers for other Google services have crept into the homepage over the years as Google has desperately sought to diversify a revenue stream too dependent on paid search matured,” she writes. “But those teasers all took you away from the home page. This is the first thing that has allowed you to transact within the homepage like search. And it’s not just on the search page, Google+ is all up in your Google related business. Even in your Gmail.”

Lacy argues that the departure from Google’s norm is intrusive, six years too late, and even labels it the first thing that’s made her consider leaving Gmail. “Not enough that I actually will…” she admits. “But we’re getting close.”

But I digress. The point is that bit about transacting with social alongside search. Google is obviously a proponent of the multi-tasking shift, and a backer of that size can make the case hard to argue.

Plane Productive

But still, people argue. In addition to Lacy’s beef, there’s Laura Vanderkam, author of a time management book called 168 Hours. She blames our ability to log on to the world 24/7 for growing feelings of frenzy and agitation.  When I asked her about what this could mean for Generation Y, a wave poised to take over the workplace and seemingly designed to multi-task, she mostly stuck to her guns.

“Multi-tasking is fine if you don’t care very much about either task,” she said. “So tweet while you’re watching TV, listen to podcasts while doing the laundry…But — and this is a big but — you cannot do two things at once if you care much about either task. People are often amazed to find they can write an entire white paper during a 3-hour flight, but it takes them all day at the office. Yep, because there’s Internet access at the office! You truly will get more done if you create blocks of time for the different priorities in your life.”

I was going to link some other stories about productive plane rides here, but a search for them turned up so many different results that I’ll just say this: this idea that Vanderkam is pushing — that there is time enough for everything if we do one thing at a time — is worth considering, even if it seems like it’s against change.


In the end, it’s always about balance. I don’t know how realistic it is to expect newer generations to set aside specific blocks of their work day for multi-tasking, but I do think it’s important that the underdogs keep fighting for it (or something like it).

I’ll continue to podcast it up while doing my laundry (one of my favorites here), and when it comes to my desk, seriously consider shutting off those pesky red alerts — at least for half the day. We’ll see how it goes.

I would love your opinion on the matter, as well as any suggestions you might have for time management in the Social Business era. Onward! To the comments section!

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