How Multitasking Can Make You MORE Effective

How Multitasking Can Make You MORE Effective

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity


This is part 2 of The Multi-Focus Maverick Series. This series is all about how to split up your time effectively so that you can focus on many things and still make progress on your goals. Check out part 1 here.


In the last installment of this series, we talked about what it means to be in focus mode. Focus mode is where you focus intensely on one thing only until you lose interest. It’s when the bulk of your tangible progress gets made. We also looked at the difference between multi-focus and multitasking.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at productive multitasking, otherwise known as “scanning”.

Scanning mode is exactly what it sounds like: free time to work on whatever you please.

Scanning Mode has 2 main purposes:

  1. To synthesize ideas and try out new things: this includes exploring, brainstorming, and researching anything new or old that has piqued your curiosity. This time can be used to determine whether you care enough about an interest to pursue it more seriously at some point. It can also be used to determine the shape that that project might take.
  2. To work on low-priority projects and activities: For me this includes everything from responding to emails to tweaking design elements on my sidebar. I also spend this time working on projects that are not yet major priorities but will be in the future. For example, right now I’m focused the book I’m writing, but once that’s done, I’m going to be working on a Bored to Death spec script. Occasionally I’ll spend my scanning time brainstorming plot ideas for my script, even though it’s not a main priority right now.

When in Scanning Mode, Multitask as Much as You Like

Yup, go for it. Have all the ADD attacks you like, check your email to your heart’s content. That’s what scanning time is for, so don’t feel guilty.

Set a End Point for Your Scanning Time

Okay, the one rule- the only really important rule, is that you must set an end point for your scanning time. Give yourself 20 minutes or an hour and then get back to focus mode. Scanning time is a perfect activity for breaks between spurts of focus. That’s how I like to use them.

As a general rule, you want to make sure that your focus time exceeds your scanning time, because focus mode is where the tangible progress happens.

Exception: When You’re Between Projects

Some multipotentialites will work on one or two projects intensely and then reach the end. At that point, instead of jumping straight into a new project, they will remain in scanning mode for a while until they decide what the next big project(s) will be.

If you’re in between projects, then spend as much time as you like in scanning mode. But if you do have long term projects on the go, be careful that your scanning time does not take over your day.

The Recap

  • There is a switch in your head. You are always in one of two modes: focus mode or scanning mode. There’s no in between.
  • Focus mode is time spent working on 1 goal only.
  • Focus mode lasts until you get bored. Work till you lose interest and then switch to another project till you lose interest in that.
  • Work in spurts.
  • Scanning mode is used for multitasking, exploring new interests, synthesizing and working on low-priority projects.
  • Scanning mode works well for breaks between spurts of focus.
  • Set a time limit and don’t let your scanning time exceed your focus time.
  • Exception: if you’re between projects, feel free to scan away until you’ve decided on your next big project(s).

Your Turn

How do you like to spend your scanning time? What challenges have you come across when working in either focus mode or scanning mode?


  1. Mel says:

    When I’m in scanning mode I like to do the tedious tasks that don’t involve a lot of thinking: mowing the lawn, washing dishes, prepping dinner. All the while thinking about new things I’d like to look up or do later during focus mode. Only problem is sometimes my scanning mode is too short! I get so excited about an idea that I end up focusing on researching or trying something new and those dishes never get done. During focus mode my biggest challenge is taking care of my son as well. I try and keep my most focused activities saved until after bedtime or nap times.

    • Emilie says:

      Ah interesting. Yeah, sometimes chores just have to come second to creative inspiration… If it’s any consolation, I think you have your priorities straight. :)

      Kids are important too, of course. Lol. But like you said, it can definitely all get done with a bit of extra planning. Good for you!

  2. Cotton Candy says:

    Great advice as always Emilie! I’m so glad you started Puttylike. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my multiple interests & horror at the idea of doing Only One Thing forever. *shudder*

    And it’s even better to get advice on how to live a happy and productive multipotentialite life. I’m excited to see what the rest of this series holds. =)


    • Emilie says:

      Thanks C.C. I’m happy you are a Puttylike community member, so there. :)

      Glad you’re finding this stuff useful. I enjoy writing it.

  3. Ainslie says:

    I’ve been getting more seriously into self-employed territory lately, and feeling like I need to impose more structure in my days, but not TOO MUCH structure, because I know that I react like a total brat to structure. Anyway, all that to say that between this post and the first one in the series, you’ve given me some great ideas about why I maybe react poorly to “structure” (I’m lashing out at being forced to focus for too long!) AND ways I can organize my days that are useful to me. I definitely tend to get lost in scanning mode for longer than is useful sometimes, especially when there’s some resistance about thinking what I “should” be doing is focusing on one project for longer than I would like to.

    Ok, now I’m just thinking outloud ;) I’m going to try the 40-90 min bursts of focus, and limited scanning breaks, and see how it goes! I’m super stoked for the rest of this series, great stuff as usual!

  4. kim says:

    If I don’t force myself, I would forever be in scanning mode, and get absolutely nothing done!! I’m honestly surprised I forced myself to put this computer down long enough today to do the dishes when what I really wanted to do was research Buddhism. Always had this problem, but I’m working on it!

  5. Sedone says:

    Hi Emilie,

    I love what you’re doing with Puttylike, and wanted to thank you for all the inspiration!

    Putting an end to scanning time has been a challenge for me. I got better at it by approaching it like strength training. In the book “The Now Habit”, there’s something called “sessions” which are basically 30 minute chunks of time that you keep track of while working on projects. I’ve been using it for a while to track my focus time, and it allows me to measure my “focus strength”. Hopefully that made some sense. I’ve been meaning to write an article about it.

    Now I’m off to figure out my core projects. Thanks again, and keep up the great work!

  6. Jenean Z says:

    Wow! I took a deep breath on that one. I am new to this putty world and it’s like finding home. I have been beating myself up for years for not being able to make the standard time management tools work for me. I always felt ‘busy’ but unaccomplished. And have been fighting bosses and friends/family that keep telling me I need to focus, and stop jumping around from project to project…just pick one! But my inspiration, passion, drive and excitement comes in waves and now I see that I don’t have to fight to sustain the wave, I just need to learn to work with it….Thanks for this….I am grateful for the clarity and finally being understood.
    PS: Going to my first WDS and super excited to join the meet-up!

  7. Debashish says:

    The first 2 posts of this 10 part series are off to a flying start, Emilie. You’ve just named the 2 modes I’ve used to get work done – Scanning & Focus. Reading these posts makes me think all the people online are multipotentialites, one way or another.

  8. Dave says:

    Hey there,

    I left a post on the ‘anxiety’ post just recently, but I didn’t say how much I enjoy your writing, Emilie. So thanks! Really enjoying hearing about different ways of making sense of many passions. :)


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