Multi-Tasking

by Anja Uitdehaag

Doing several things simultaneously makes you feel like you’re getting lots of things done. However, multitasking is a myth; it doesn’t exist. When you attempt to do several things your brains actually switch their focus from one task to another instead of effectively doing two things simultaneously. So, what you’re really doing is task-switching – switching your attention from task to task extremely quickly.

Researchers and neuroscientists around the world, including those at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of London, agree that multitasking is a problem. It makes you less efficient, less effective and over time, it stresses and even damages the brain.

A couple of examples:

  • Your IQ goes down when you multitask. Splitting attention between two or more tasks decreases the limited amount of brainpower a person can devote to each task. As a result neither task is done particularly well.
  • Harvard Business Review reports that productivity goes down by as much as 40% when we multitask! That’s because our brain is actually switching from one task to the other and losing momentum because it’s always trying to re-group.
  • A University of Washington study has shown that multitasking adds stress to our environment. Although we feel like we’re doing a lot, our productivity is actually much less than it would be if we were focusing on one thing at a time.  So we feel like we’re doing lots of work for little return. And that’s a stressor.

Limiting multitasking is essential. Best-selling business advice author Timothy Ferris also extols the virtues of “single-tasking” in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek.

Here are some tips to avoid multitasking:

  • Before starting something, ask yourself why you should do it.  Given your answer, you can determine how valuable the task is to you (and your organization) and whether it is something that you should be doing yourself or delegating;
  • Turn the e-mail alert off on your computer so that you’re not distracted each time new mail arrives;
  • Turn your cell phone off when working on a project;
  • Prioritize: List down the things that need to be done in the order of importance. This gives you more time to finish more urgent tasks.
  • Experiment with different applications and techniques, such as The Pomodoro Technique (http://pomodorotechnique.com), internet-blocking software, etc. that are designed to keep you focused on the job-in-hand
  • Most importantly: Learn to focus on one thing at a time, so focus on the task at hand and stick to it.

Do you believe the myth that multi-tasking is best?  Challenge yourself to see how effective you really are when you perform several things at once compared to when you do them sequentially.

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