Here’s a quick quiz about multitasking:
Are the following statements true or false?
- Multitasking is essential to being productive and getting things done.
- Multitasking saves time
- Women are better at multitasking than men.
Actually, all three of these statements are wrong.
Nobody is good at multitasking. Nobody!
The human brain is physically incapable of doing two activities that require conscious attention at the same time. Sure, you can drive your car and talk on the phone at the same time. That’s because driving for most adults is a subconscious, automatic activity–you don’t need much conscious attention to do it. But you can’t do two or more tasks that require conscious effort at the same time!
Hint: Multitasking Doesn’t Exist, Task Switching Does!
Instead, what you’re doing when you try to “multitask” is what researchers call “task switching”–jumping from one task to the other.
Sometimes, you switch between two tasks so quickly that you feel like you’re “multitasking” and getting a lot done. But it’s just an illusion. Sure, it may feel like you’re being really productive, but that’s just not true.
When you multitask, you take a lot longer to get stuff done, you make a lot more mistakes, and you end up a lot more stressed out.
Shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40% of someone’s productive time.
People who try to multitask also make up to 50% more more mistakes than people who monotask–focus on one thing at a time.
Multitasking is a huge time suck
Every time you switch between your e-mail, Facebook, and that document you’re working on, your brain has to reactivate the “rules” of that new activity.
There’s always a delay of time while you reorient to the new task. If the task requires a lot of thought and mental processing, that delay lasts much longer.
For example, maybe you’re pulling data from a lot of different sources in order to complete your work. Then you get an email notification that interrupts you. Not realizing what you’re doing to yourself, you switch your attention to the email.
Let’s say you spend a couple minutes responding to the e-mail, then you notice another e-mail you forgot to respond to. And after 15 minutes of e-mail, now you switch back to the report.
Your brain has to re-orient itself back to where you were 15 minutes ago; it takes you another 10 minutes just to recollect your thoughts and get back on track. Actually, research shows that every time you get distracted, it takes on average 20 minutes to return to the original task.
As you can see, multitasking is a huge time suck!!
The Epidemic of Multitasking
There’s actually a new epidemic of multitasking going around. It may not kill you, but it will kill your productivity. Scientists call this new epidemic “high tech juggling”–rapidly switching between digital tasks. Researchers found that on average, people switch activities every three minutes while they’re working!!
They’ve found that “high tech juggling” creates a heavy toll on your performance level and your ability to think clearly.
- are terrible at tests of thinking ability.
- make more mistakes.
- take longer to complete tasks.
- get easily distracted by things that aren’t related to what they’re trying to do.
- don’t remember things as well.
- have difficulty concentrating.
Shockingly, researchers found that your IQ falls 10 points when you’re juggling between different tasks, the same loss as if you missed an entire night of sleep!
This is because of “cognitive overload”–you’re doing too many things at once, and frying the circuits in your brain.
Multitasking can trigger a vicious cycle, where we work hard at multi-tasking, take longer to get things done, then feel stressed, harried and compelled to multi-task more.
If you multitask a lot, your brain actually produces less of the neurotransmitters that help you focus. Over time,your brain produces less of these neurotransmitters. It becomes harder and harder for your brain to sustain focus and you’ll find your brain constantly scanning for the next distraction.
So why do people multitask in the first place? Why is it such a problem when all this research is saying it’s a bad thing?
You multitask because it feels like you’re being really productive. Multitasking gives you an illusion that you’re working really hard.
It feels like you’re going 100MPH on all your tasks, but you actually produce less over the same period of time.
If you’re still not convinced that multitasking is killing your productivity and your brain power do this activity:
You need a clock or a timer and a blank sheet of paper.
First draw a line down the middle of the paper. On one side of the line print ‘I am good at multitasking.’ on the other side of the line print the numbers 1 to 21.
Now alternating between the letters and the numbers copy them underneath. First the ‘I’ then the ’1’, next the ‘A’ then the ‘2’. Time yourself as you do this. Note the time it takes.
Now get ready to do the exercise again. This time write the entire sentence ‘I am good at multitasking’ and then switch to the numbers.
Again time yourself as you do this and note the time it takes.
You will notice that when you write the letters first then the numbers you can cut your time down by more than half.
So now you have some proof that monotasking helps you be more productive vs multitasking!
To sum up, multitasking=Bad and monotasking=Good.
What’s the solution?
Flow is the solution.
Fow is complete immersion in one activity. Really productive, successful people spend time on one activity at a time.
Why don’t you don’t try it?
Take one day where you make a conscious, deliberate effort to focus on only one thing at a time until you finish it. Notice the difference in your stress level and how productive you feel. Also, notice how satisfied you feel when you actually complete one task before moving on to the next.
You’ll see that the days when you focused on just one task a time were dramatically more productive and successful. And you may have felt happier!
The bottom line: The quickest way to shoot yourself in the foot is to multitask.
Instead of being proud of your ability to “multitask”, start getting good at focusing on ONE thing at a time. Totally immerse yourself in that one activity until you complete it. Then, switch to ONE more task and complete it.
You’ll be doing yourself, your productivity, and your brain a huge favor!