Why Chunking is Better than Multitasking

Elon Musk has been in the news lately for his attempt to buy Twitter for $44 Billion. Musk, who is already the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, was leading these negotiations while dealing with two other full-time jobs already. If you are one of the people who wonders how he gets all of his work done, Musk has found that chunking is better than multitasking.

As a consultant for Lean East, I also have multiple clients and responsibilities I am supporting at the same time. Like Musk, I have learned techniques that help me accomplish higher-quality work and other methods that just lead to stress and chaos. I have also discovered that dividing my day into blocks, or chunking, is better than multitasking.

Multitasking Is Not Effective

FMRI Scans - Chunking is better than multitasking
FMRI scans show the inefficiencies in the brain when you switch between tasks.

Time management is challenging when you have multiple responsibilities (or problems) to deal with at the same time.  Many experts consider true multitasking – completing more than one task at a time –a myth. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) brain imagining has demonstrated that brains don’t really focus on multiple areas simultaneously – people just quickly switch focus back and forth. This jumping between tasks increases the likelihood of slower and less effective output on both tasks. It also increases your odds of being distracted enough to miss an important step in a task.

Time Chunking

Chunking means dividing your work and focus into chunks of time rather than trying to handle multiple tasks at the same time. In other words, instead of doing two things at once, focus on each task separately and do the work properly.

I have found chunking can work particularly well if you schedule tasks in your calendar just like you would a meeting. Avoid interruptions during the block of time you have assigned to the task. You can get good work done and then have great records of where you spent your time.

I try to set aside a reasonable amount of time for the task and reward myself with a short break when I am done.

An Elon Musk Example

Elon Musk - Chunking is better than multitasking
Elon Musk

On the day Elon Musk closed the deal to purchase Twitter for $44 Billion he was followed around by biographer Walter Isaacson. Isaacson notes how Musk chunked his time in order to accomplish several other important tasks during his day.

In the morning he met with Indonesia’s minister for investment at the Tesla Gigafactory in Austin to discuss the battery supply chain. Later that evening, Musk met with SpaceX engineers to work on rocket engine valve leak solutions. “No one mentioned Twitter,” Isaacson tweeted.

This shows how Musk uses chunking to focus on one task at a time. Shut out outside distractions, be present, and focus on the issue at hand.

Using Chunking

Experiment with chunking your own time.

  • Pick a single task that should take 30-60 minutes and schedule the time for the task in your calendar.
  • Treat this time like a meeting with another person. Start on time and stay at your desk.
  • It is important to ignore phone calls, texts, and emails just like you would if you were in an important meeting.
  • It is also important to celebrate your accomplishment when you are done with the task. Be sure to cross it off of your task list and take a short break.

Once you become good at chunking your day into focused tasks you can schedule multiple chunks in a single day. The key is to prepare, work in a focused way, and celebrate.

Please share your experience with chunking with others in the Personal Kaizen community by writing a comment below. Did you find that chunking is better than multitasking?

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