Is multitasking costing you time?
You're on the phone with a supplier, while quietly typing up notes about your previous phone call. As soon as you hang up, a colleague sends you an instant message, which you read over while dialing your manager's extension number. Then, during your phone conversation with her, you start updating your week's to-do-list.
To boost our productivity, many of us multitask like this to some degree. And, in a world where the pace of life is often frantic, people who can multitask are typically seen as efficient and effective. After all, don't we get more done when we do more than one thing at a time?
Actually, multitasking doesn't make us as productive as we think. What's more, it's likely that the quality of our work is worse when we multitask. In fact, it could actually be costing us time instead of creating it.
In this article we'll examine the issues associated with multitasking, and look at why we shouldn't do it. We'll also look at some suggestions to help you get out of the multitasking habit.
Many people have studied multitasking over the last decade, and most of them have come to the same conclusion: Multitasking doesn't make us more productive!
Several studies have found that multitasking can actually result in us wasting around 20-40 percent of our time, depending on what we're trying to do.
The simple reason that multitasking doesn't work is because we can't actually focus on more than one task at a time. But we think we can – so we multitask to try and get more done.
Imagine trying to talk to someone and write an email at the same time. Both of these tasks involve communication. You can't speak to someone and write a really clear and focused email at the same time. The tasks are too conflicting – your mind gets overloaded as you try to switch between the two tasks.
Now think about listening to someone as you try to write an email. These two tasks are a bit easier to do together because they involve different skills. But your attention to the person will fade in and out as you're writing. You simply can't fully focus on both things at once.
The biggest problem with multitasking is that it can lower the quality of our work – we try to do two things or more things at once, and the result is that we do everything less well than if we focused properly on each task in turn.
When we switch tasks, our minds must reorient to cope with the new information. If we do this rapidly, like when we're multitasking, we simply can't devote our full concentration and focus to every switch. So the quality of our work suffers. The more complex or technical the tasks we're switching between, the bigger the drop in quality is likely to be. For instance, it would be almost impossible to write a good-quality presentation while having an emotionally charged conversation with a co-worker!
Another major downside to multitasking is the effect it has on our stress levels. Dealing with multiple things at once makes us feel overwhelmed, drained and frazzled.
On the other hand, think of how satisfied you feel when you devote your full attention to one task. You're able to focus, and you'll probably finish it feeling as if you've not only completed something, but done it well. This is called being in flow , and it's a skill that can be developed with some practice.
It can be hard to identify when you're multitasking. But there are a few key indicators you can look for:
If we want to improve the quality of our work, lower our stress levels, and become more efficient, then we need get out of the multitasking habit. Below are some suggestions to help you cut back on multitasking:
If you'd like to learn more about the drawbacks of multitasking, and how to get better at managing your time, check out our Expert Interview with Dave Crenshaw, The Myth of Multitasking.
Many of us think that multitasking is the best way to get through the demands of our working day. This is a myth! The reality is that multitasking lowers the quality of our work, reduces our ability to focus, and can actually cost us time.
It's important to stop multitasking as soon as you realize you're doing it. Schedule your day into blocks of time, try to minimize and manage interruptions, and work on improving your concentration.
Controlling your tendency to multitask could have surprising benefits. You probably find that you get more done, feel less stress, and have more energy at the end of the day.
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