The Inefficiency of Multitasking

The Inefficiency of Multitasking

Multitasking is Not a Badge of Honor

As managers, we often think that multitasking is a good thing and something we are expected to be good at. We believe that we must keep five balls in the air always. The thought being that the more we can do at once the better we are at doing our job. This is false.

Think about distracted drivers. You are driving down the freeway at 70 miles an hour. Also, you’re trying to keep an eye on traffic, listening to the radio, checking your phone, drinking coffee, and thinking about what tasks are waiting for you at work. How successful are you being at the one thing you should be concentrated on – driving?

In this example, I think we would all say that the distracted driver is not at their optimum level of performance. But we think that when we do this on the job we are being efficient with our time.

Proof that multitasking is Inefficient

Many studies have looked at the issue of multitasking and brain function. These studies have found that not only are people less effective when they multitask, but they may be doing damage to their brains (see sources below).

By multitasking, you are asking your brain to use its limited resources to perform multiple functions. This is much like when you open multiple programs on your computer and you do not have sufficient RAM or processing speeds to run the programs. When this happens, the computer slows up or freezes.

When you multitask, you may be able to accomplish many things, but you will not be doing any of them very well. Over time you condition your brain to perform in a less efficient manner making it difficult to focus over the long-term on specific items.

How We Can Break Out of Our Multitasking Habits

So, if multitasking is bad how do we break this habit?

  • Schedule your time. Make it a priority to set aside a specific amount of time for important tasks that you need to accomplish. This will allow you to concentrate on one specific task at a time without interruption.
  • Turn off notifications and the ringer on your cell phone and your email. Most items that come across your email or cell phone can wait. You don’t need to address every little insignificant item the moment it comes to your attention. If it is important people know where to find you and how to get a hold of you. It will wait.
  • Schedule multiple times throughout the day to check email.  This will allow you to have the time to focus on email and not feel the need to be made constantly aware of when a new message arrives.
  • Make a list of the tasks you need to get done and rank them by priority. This list will help you focus on what is most important and give you a guide to scheduling your time alleviating the need to multitask.

Give your undivided attention to what you are doing at the immediate moment. Whether having a conversation with a coworker, writing an email, or holding a meeting be present in the moment free of any other distractions. Focus on that one thing that is needed now and don’t worry about other things you have to do.

In Summary

Most of us feel like we are being pulled in ten different directions at one time. We have multiple projects and priorities that require our attention. By multitasking, we feel that we can accomplish everything we need to get done. In the end, we end up doing things less efficiently and less competently than if we gave each task the full focus that it deserves. By scheduling our time, removing distractions, and becoming more focused on one thing at a time, we can gain greater clarity. When we have greater clarity, it allows us more control over our time. We will then perform at a higher level than if we try to do multiple tasks at once.

Make the commitment this week to identify the ways in which you are being less effective because of multitasking. Identify ways that you can get more focused. Turn off your cell phone, turn off email notifications, make daily lists and prioritize, and schedule your day to be more efficient.

Make it a goal to be great at one thing at a time rather than mediocre at a bunch of things at once. If you do this, you will find that you are more efficient and less stressed.

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