Multitasking – it’s something we all do on a regular basis. In fact, you might be doing it at this very moment. (Many are reading this article while eating lunch, listening in on a conference call, visiting their local vape store, or supervising their young children.) But are we being more productive by stacking multiple tasks on top of each other?
The Problem With Multitasking
Research shows that 77 percent of drivers believe they can easily manage texting while simultaneously driving/navigating the road. Yet common sense, science, and crash data paint an entirely different reality. Texting while driving is known to be a lethal and deadly combo.
The same fallacy exists in the workplace. How many times have you (or a coworker) bragged about being able to handle multiple tasks at once without missing a beat – almost as if it’s a badge of honor? It happens all the time, right?
Well, you’re probably not as good as you think. Research and observation show that multitasking actually has the following effects:
- Less efficiency. The cost of moving between tasks is high. Each time you shift from one task to another, it takes your brain a moment to adjust. And then you have to reacquaint yourself with where you were the last time you left off. The more you switch, the slower and less efficient you become.
- More mistakes. Research shows that people who multitask actually pay less attention to the tasks they’re completing. This contributes to a higher number of errors and undesirable outcomes.
- Higher stress. Your brain isn’t designed to work on multiple tasks at once. When you try to do so, you become stressed and anxious. This ultimately hurts productivity and negatively impacts your overall health and well-being.
- Suppressed memory. You have a much lower chance of remembering something if you’re trying to simultaneously focus on multiple activities at once. This can come back to bite you down the road.
- Lower creativity. If you’re in a creative field – or really any area of business – multitasking can hurt your ability to think outside of the box and come up with fresh ideas.
- Lower IQ. According to a study at the University of London, participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks saw an IQ score decline that was similar to if they smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. Some men in the study saw a drop of 15 IQ points, which lowered their scores to that of an eight-year-old child.
How to Singletask With Ease and Efficiency
Still think you’re a multitasking machine?
If you’re like most people, that list of undesirable side effects and consequences has you contemplating a shift to “single tasking.” So here are a few pointers on how you can tackle one task at a time and still be efficient and productive:
- Create a prioritized task list. We often multitask when we have a bunch of different responsibilities on our plate, but we don’t know where to start. We’re worried about getting to everything, so we try to do it all at once. Creating a prioritized task list for each day will prevent this chaotic mindset from taking root.
- Silence the noise. When it comes to important tasks that require substantial focus, silence any distractions that don’t positively impact your ability to complete the task at hand. This might look like silencing your phone, logging out of your email account, and/or shutting your office door.
- Work in bursts. It’s much easier to focus on one task if you promise yourself that you only have to muster up 30 or 45 minutes of discipline. Try working in short bursts followed by brief breaks.
- Set unrealistic goals. Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. In other words, the same task could take you 45 minutes or two hours, depending on what your schedule looks like. Use this to your advantage by setting unrealistic goals and deadlines for yourself. That means if a project doesn’t have to be completed for three weeks, you assign a due date that’s just one week out. Or if something can be finished by 12 pm, you aim to get it completed by 10 am.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Productivity and efficiency are things we all seek in our daily lives. But if you’re trying to multitask your way to these goals, you’re missing the point. The human brain was never designed to multitask, which means you’re actually working against yourself.
By blocking out distractions and focusing on one task at a time, you can enjoy productivity gains, lower your stress, and obtain higher overall satisfaction with your career and life.
Won’t you give it a try?