The Myth of Multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking

The phone is ringing, your Outlook notification center is alerting you to every email that arrives the minute it arrives, and Marv is standing in your doorway asking for yesterday’s projections.  You’re late for a meeting down the hall, you have a conference call immediately following the meeting, and in the midst of it all, you are expected to actually do the job you were hired to do.  Sound familiar?  The ability to juggle work and competing priorities has become synonymous with survival in corporate cultures everywhere.  But at what cost?

Time management is often the number one concern for many of our clients.  But really, people don’t want to manage their time, they just want more of it.  Do more with less… have you heard that one lately?  Busy executives, sales people and other business professionals are constantly being pulled in a million directions, it’s not a lack of time management… the problem is really the inability to focus.

Think you can multitask really well?

Think again. Recent research into multitasking suggests that we aren’t really multitasking at all, our brain is just fast at switching between tasks… the upside, this ability has given humans the evolutionary edge, the downside, switching between tasks frequently can result in chronic stress, mistakes at work and school, and car crashes!  Our brains just aren’t wired to do many things at once.

Researchers have dubbed this phenomenon “chronic multitasking.”  Doesn’t that sound like something that should be medicated?!?  Research is showing that the human brain is not meant to multitask (despite what we have learned from society).  More of this research shows that a two-task limit is all the brain can effectively handle.  So, when you are eating lunch at your desk, sending an email and talking with a colleague, not just one of those things suffers… they ALL do!  And just to put some icing on the cake, research is suggesting that there are long-term implications… the more a person multitasks, the more severe an impact it has on overall brain function… meaning, that even when a person is not multitasking, their brain is functioning at less than optimal performance.  I’m convinced to attempt reform, are you?

So what can you do?  Here are a couple of quick tips to help you avoid a few of the most common multitasking traps at work.

Have a plan each and every day. 
If you start your day letting other people determine your priorities (voicemails, emails, etc.) then you will be reactive all day long.  Get a game plan together the night before and go into work fresh, with a plan and ready to tackle the day.

Do one thing at a time.
Simple, right… well, it actually is, if we break it down.  If you need to speak to a colleague, eat lunch and send an email.  Prioritize.  Which one will take the least amount of time?  Email.  OK, so do that first.  Check the box.  Next one, talking to a colleague will take 15 minutes, so do that next.  Check the box. Now for lunch… 20 minutes, eat, breathe and check the box.

Turn off email notifications. 
Ding. Ding.  Every time an email comes in, we see the pop-up announcement and feel compelled to dive in.  Email for many is a vortex from which extraction is futile.  Who invented “reply to all” anyway?  We suggest you time-block email.  Like any other appointment on your calendar, you do it when YOU have it scheduled.  I know, this sounds ideal and since we work at the ‘speed of business’ it may seem impossible.  At first.  Checking email constantly is learned behavior, does anyone remember a time when we managed to work a full day without a single email?  If it was learned, it can be unlearned.  It may require adjusting expectations of others, but ultimately you will get more done.  You can do it, if you want to do it.

Minimize multitasking for the next week, and let us know how it goes.  Those brain scientists and researchers are smarter than I am for sure, and they say that ultimately stress can be reduced by slaying the multitasking dragon.  I’m up for the battle, are you?

Grow Big or Go Home!