If you’re stressed or “too busy” it’s probably because you multitask.
Multitasking can cost you almost half of your productivity.
Some people take great pride on the fact that they can do so many things at once. What are you doing right now? Reading this article, answering text messages, scanning emails, on Facebook, etc? What you’re really doing is reducing your productivity by approximately 40% according to research.
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Today, we have so much going on at all times. It’s hard not to feel like we have to do a bunch of stuff all at once, just to keep up. Well, multi-tasking is not a real skill. You’re just task-switching and your brain has to work on overdrive to try and keep pace.
I like to say it’s like trying to juggle ping pong balls underwater. Today we’ll discuss what to do instead to make the most of your time.
Why multitasking does not work
As I said, what we call multitasking is really just “task-switching.” Guy Winch explains this in detail in his book Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries.
“When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,”
Did you know that you actually go slower when you are switching between tasks? There are two stages in your brain that make up your “executive control” processes. One is called goal shifting (“I want this now instead of that”) and the other stage is rule activation (“I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this“)
The two stages are designed to help you switch between tasks as easily as possible. But the problem comes from the small switching costs that happen when we try and multitask to go back and forth. We constantly goal shift and change the rules, and those switches may be small – like a tenth of a second, but they add up to very large amounts the more we switch back and forth.The research says that multitasking takes more time and produces more errors, as much as 40% of productivity time.
In keeping with the 420 talk this week here is an interesting thought from another article on multitasking:
In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.”
There are countless studies that show why multitasking is so bad for us. Essentially, our brains can only handle so many things at once. Multitasking even kills your creativity. And if you followed my series on why people make decisions based on emotions, you will see that our brains have not evolved to do the kind of processing we expect from them.
What you can do instead of multitasking
All is not lost, my friend. the first step is awareness. You are probably pretty productive already, but what if you could gain an edge by reducing the switching costs associated with multitasking?
- Do activities in batches – try and sort your to do list into pieces that can be completed one after the other. Perhaps even group similar tasks together. Don’t answer emails when they come in. Instead, pick a time during your day where you read them and respond. And let people know that you do this, so they don’t try and monopolize your time.
- Close those tabs and documents– If you are like me, you get excited about all the cool stuff on the internet. I open new windows and tabs and say, “Oh I want to read that.” And then I go back to other projects. Or I have an idea and open up a new document to start typing. Very quickly I end up with a bunch of unnamed documents and tabs I should get to. I am trying to break this habit, but I have found the easiest thing to do is to just close them all down and restart my computer. Kind of like a brain restart at the same time. Feels great!
- Be fully present in meetings – Nothing drives me crazier than when I am in a meeting and other people are checking their text messages. Or worse yet, they are all sitting there with their laptops open. People seem like they have more important things to do, get distracted, and miss important information. Those meetings end up going on and on and nothing gets done. So make it a priority to set the tone for a distraction free meeting.
- Be fully present in your relationships – Put that cell phone away! We are all connected to the world through a little tiny square computer in our pockets. It makes us feel special. How about making other people feel special by not pulling out your phone every time you get a text, Facebook update, or email? I have a rule with everyone I deal with that if they call and I don’t answer, I am most likely in a meeting with someone and they should leave a message. However, if it is an emergency, to call back right away a second time. No one has abused this system yet. And when you are with your loved ones, don’t spend all your time looking at your phone while pretending to have a conversation with them. It makes me sad to see all these people just staring at screens and missing massive opportunities to connect with real people around them.