The Myth of Multi-Tasking
Much is discussed and debated about the benefits or abilities of multi-tasking. Women are often quoted as being better at multi-tasking than men.
Multi-tasking is the ability to do more than one task at the same time. For instance – being on the phone while reading or writing an email. Taking notes (or writing your to-do list) during a meeting.
As a concept is seems like a good ability and an effective way to use your time and get more done. The reality is you’re more likely to be less productive and waste more time.
What you’re actually doing is not ‘multi-tasking’ but rapidly switching between the different tasks. Our brains aren’t wired to do more than one thing at a time. Research shows that attempting to multi-task not only increases stress levels but results in a drop in IQ.
If you want to be productive then ‘multi-tasking’ is not a productive use of your time. You lose focus on one or more of the tasks, forget what you’re doing or end up doing none of them particularly well.
Multi-tasking can work if one task requires less attention, is done automatically or uses a different part of the brain e.g. walking and talking. However, the ability to walk and text is known to be hazardous, as is being on your mobile and driving – handsfree or not!
You might feel the demands on your time require you to multi-task but you’ll use your time more effectively when you don’t.
• Plan your day. Work out what’s important, what you need to get done and this will help you to focus on the right tasks and be less distracted by working on the wrong things, wasting time on low value, unproductive activities.
• Practice chunking – group similar tasks together. Respond to several emails at once, make a number of phone calls in one go. It’s a more efficient way of working.
• Focus on one task at a time. If you don’t complete it in one go, work on it for a set amount of time and then switch to another task and come back to it later.
• Switch off all distractions – email, phone, internet when you need to concentrate or need a period of uninterrupted time. You don’t have to answer the phone when it rings or respond to an email as soon as it hits your Inbox.
• Email is a major reason for multi-tasking. The temptation to work on email while doing something else at the same time or just the constant distraction of incoming emails. Switch off all those email alerts, audible and visual. Only check your email two or three times a day.
• Limit the amount of applications or files you have open on your computer, tablet or phone. Shut down anything you’re not using until you need it.
• Set time limits. Work in short burst of 15-20 minutes or even 5 minutes. You’re less likely to start multi-tasking if you’re only working on one task for a short amount of time.
• Define your boundaries. Avoid taking on too much, so you end up attempting to multi-task in order to get them all done. Less is most definitely more.
• Learn to switch off – especially from technology and don’t be afraid of doing nothing or having space in your day.
You can also make more effective use of your time if you streamline your day and think about task combining rather than multi-tasking.
What tasks or activities can you plan to do together?
• Arrange more than one meeting in the same location, especially if you have to travel a distance to get there.
• Stop off at the post office or bank on your way to or from work.
• Group admin tasks or chores together and do them before or after work, on your commute or during your lunch break.
If you find yourself multi-tasking, stop. Take a break, refocus on the most important task you need to be working on and start working on that one. You can come back to the other task(s) when you finished one.
If you’re caught up in the habit of multi-tasking and want to work in a more focused and productive way, get in touch.