We’re encouraged to think that multitasking is the way to go, that in this ever-busy world it’s how we can best get through all our tasks, that if we’re to be successful we should aspire to this approach.
I meet many people who believe they have to work this way to prove to themselves and others that they’re giving their all.
However, there’s one big problem with this…
The human brain does not multitask – it tasks sequentially.
Cognitively demanding tasks need undivided attention, and the brain will make a choice.
Similarly, driving while talking or texting on the phone is dangerous.
And catching up on email while you’re on a conference call means you give neither proper attention.
Working in a ‘multitasking’ way is incredibly inefficient…it reduces productivity by up to 40%.
There’s now plenty of research to show that if you multitask:
- It takes more time to complete a task
- The quality of work decreases
- Stress levels rise
So how to get out of the multitasking habit?
1) Notice how often you do it.
- Do you check your email too frequently?
- Do you watch TV while also texting, surfing, or similar?
- Is social media a constant presence in your life?
- If someone interrupts you while you’re working, do you try to split your attention?
- Can you focus on what you’re doing in the moment, or does your mind tend to wander?
- If you’re at an event, are you also tweeting, texting, planning for later?
2) Avoid doing it in the first place, by instigating practices such as:
- Chunking your day up in blocks of time
- Managing interruptions (turn off email etc.)
- Practicing focusing on what’s happening now. When you feel your attention drift, draw it back
- Changing your mindset – multitasking does not prove that you’re superman or superwoman
- Noticing when you’re multitasking, remembering how unproductive it is…and stopping!
Of course emergencies happen, and multi-tasking is necessary and useful on occasion.
But as a regular way of life it’s a no-no – unless you want to work longer hours than necessary, produce poor-quality work, and get stressed out.
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