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How Not to Multitask

A friend of mine recommended the blog zenhabits.net. ZenHabits is all about habits for living simply, and covers a lot of ground—from everyday task management to personal finances to living and workspace design. One of the articles that caught my eye was How Not to Multitask. Multitasking is normally taken to be a pillar of productivity, but if you think about it—it’s sort of like the mortal enemy to Flow

When it comes to designing interactive experiences that are task-oriented (which covers a lot of ground!), maybe ZenHabits has it right: maybe interfaces that prompt us to multi-task are a BAD thing.

Designers are often tempted to build form out of function. We’ll put a related resources toolbox on a page to fill a visual “gap.” Sometimes we cater too much to ad-hoc business requirements that descend upon us during review/revision cycles: “We need to tell users that we also provide X, Y and Z.” The assumption here is that our users are multitasking machines systematically working their way through the various tasks we assign.

Some design inspiration from How Not To Multitask:

Tip 1: Set up to-do lists

Let users bite off tasks one at a time. Linked-in does this well with their progress meter.

Tip 4: Plan your day in blocks.

Help users plan by giving them an approximate idea of how long tasks will take.

Tip 5: Work on your most important task first.

Make it clear to users what their MIT is. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

Tip 6: Turn off all other distractions.

Tamper down all of the related/correlated messaging and functionality

Tip 8: If other things come in while you’re working, put them in your inbox.

Rather than diverting or disrupting the user along the way, store up related or next steps and present these either at the end or if/when the user opts out of the current task.

Tip 10: If interrupted, make a note of where you are at.

Automate this process and let users pick up from where they left off last time.

Tip 11: Take deep breaths, stretch, and take breaks now and then. Enjoy life. Go outside, and appreciate nature. Keep yourself sane.

No design insight here, just good advice :)

David Gillis More posts by David Gillis