We’re all guilty of doing it: listening to music while reading an article, responding to email messages while retrieving voicemail messages from our phones or driving to work while downing a less than portable breakfast. Who among us hasn’t embraced multitasking as a means of doing all of the things that need to get done most at the same time?
Herein lies the very problem, my friends: multitasking is one of the greatest lies of all time. Multitasking is a farce. A myth. A falsehood. If you think that you are getting more done by taking on multiple tasks as once, you’ve been hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Led astray. Run a… You get my drift.
But I digress. Here are the facts when it comes to multitasking behavior:
1) We are actually task switching.
While we think that we are doing two things (or more) at once, we are really just quickly switching from one task to the other. Moving from one thing to another divides attention, impacts performance and reduces productivity because our brains have a finite processing capacity. Researchers have found that taking on multiple tasks actually takes longer than opting to do the individual tasks serially. Yes, really.
Dr. Clifford Nass, professor of communications at Stanford University, suggests that our brains are better served by focusing on a singular, specific task (like email, for example) for ~20 minutes. By focusing on individual tasks we are more likely to get into a zone of efficiency.
2) We are more likely to screw things up.
Studies show that we are more likely to make mistakes and can see our productivity reduced by as much as 40% when we try to multitask. While we logically think that we are working smarter, we actually are doing ourselves harm – especially when we divide our time across on assignments that require critical thinking.
A study at Western Washington University found that multitasking can cause ‘inattentional blindness’, making us oblivious to even the most conspicuous happenings within our surrounding environment. Furthermore, research from the University of Utah found that frequent multitaskers just aren’t as good as they think they are… In short, the people who try to multitask the most are usually the least effective at it. Ouch.
3) We literally lose our smarts.
Research at the University of London showed that multitasking during cognitive tasks resulted in an IQ reduction for evaluated subjects similar to that observed as a result of sleep deprivation or marijuana use. To put it bluntly (no pun intended), multitasking is a bad, bad habit at its best and something far more nefarious at its worst.
Given our everyday preoccupation with devices and connectivity, multitasking leads to an almost perpetual state of distraction that makes it challenging for us to focus even when we want to do so. Even the knowledge of a potential opportunity to multitask (i.e. that unread email in our inbox) can drop our effective IQ by 10 points. Wow – that is enough to make me want to lock my cell phone in a desk drawer during the day (and most of the night). Are you worried yet?
Consider focusing on one task at a time to be most effective. Create a schedule for checking email, text messages and other notifications. We all have an opportunity to grow in this regard, and you may ultimately actually be able to do more by doing less.
Engineer Your Bliss Challenge: Make a conscious effort not to multitask (task switch) this week and see if you notice a difference in your level of productivity.
How hard is it for you to do one thing at a time? Let me know in the comments below.
Did you like this article? If so, please join the ‘Engineer Your Bliss’ community and receive the FREE Bliss Blueprint Workbook and Coaching Guide. You’ll also receive periodic communications including tips and resources that I only share via email.
Click the button below for access: