Women are supposed to be expert at multitasking.
Women are supposed to be expert at multitasking.

Ok. Hands up if you do any of these…..

  • read & reply to emails while talking to a colleague
  • text while you’re walking from one place to another
  • discreetly write out a shopping list during a meeting
  • study while you’re watching the match or your fave series
  • send business related tweets while you’re writing a report or number crunching
  • check Face Book during the sermon

…..and you can probably add a few more.  We live in a world where being over busy has status.

Our lives are packed these days – literally thousands of new bits of information  land on our desks or computers every day. Plus the usual work-related tasks, housework, caring for children,  walking the dog, finding time to read the Bible, pray…….

It’s not surprising that we turn to multitasking to be more productive and to  save a few precious minutes here and there – after all, cognitively we seem able to follow several threads of thought at a time. Right?

Not exactly.

It’s possible to perform ‘background tasks’ – eating and watching TV, running several loads of washing while reading a report – because the background task requires little cognitive effort.

Multitasking refers to when we try to perform two, or more, actions simultaneously that each require attention and full brain power.

And the truth is,  multitasking is a myth.

And a dangerous one.

Failures of Multitasking

We all know that texting and driving can have disastrous consequences.

But did you know that, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” [Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, 2005 – emphasis mine]

The same research indicated that multi-tasking is akin to performing tasks when you haven’t slept for 36 hours!

It’s clear from this that trying to do two or more things at once is totally counter-productive and not likely to lead to successful job completion.

Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work

Without getting too technical what happens is that your brain can’t do two things at once. So, it switches back and forth between the tasks, using up energy and reducing your attention. This negative effect is apparently worse the older we get, and has been researched by Adam Gazzaley.

To put it another way, you’re not able to fully focus or concentrate on any of the tasks you’re attempting. Hence  a loss in efficiency and effectiveness as you’re likely to make more mistakes, especially as the day goes on and you start to be tired.

And here’s the real blow – multitasking actually slows you down!

It’s far faster to fully focus on one action then move onto the next.

How Multitasking Affects Health

Dr Andrew Rosen of South Florida’s Centre for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders states that multitasking:

  • “overloads the neurons
  • depletes the brain chemicals we need
  • overloads the central nervous system”

Multitasking can result in:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • reduced memory
  • burn-out

Ways to Cut Back

  • reduce the amount of people/groups you follow  on social media – stick with the ones that really matter. If you hardly ever read those newsletters. unsubscribe.
  • organise your day so that you have strict time-slots for dealing with social media, meetings with colleagues. phone calls etc
  • delegate what you can
  • to avoid interruptions try to find  a quiet corner away from people and use that
  • politely but firmly rebuff people who try to interrupt you unless it’s urgent.  If you can, put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and make it obvious that you mean it
  • focus on one job at at a time – it may take a little practice but you’ll find that you’ll be able to concentrate harder and for longer
  • if you do find yourself slipping back into multitasking, stop, take a short break and then decide which task you’re going to tackle first

If you want to read more about multi-tasking, have a look at  ‘The Myth of Multitasking” by Dave Crenshaw

Multi-tasking is counter productive. It  exhausts you and contributes to impaired performance.  I hope these tips will help you as you strive for success in 2016. Let me know!

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2 thoughts on “Why you CAN’T Multi-Task [life hack]

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