You might be surprised to learn why.. It’s a buzzword we all see and hear frequently, but it’s not in favor as it once was. Multi-tasking is good when it refers to automated shop processes and computer servers, but not good when applied to human activities.
A while back, I had occasion to research the issue as part of preparation to facilitate a client’s management retreat. In an exhaustive online periodical search, I found not one positive article on human multi-tasking since 1996; rather, all since then were critical, mostly for productivity and health reasons.
The common thread through the articles was that multi-tasking actually decreases efficiency: at the end of the day, you will have gotten less done and likely not as well as you could have. The inefficiencies are produced by both splitting your attention and frequently changing your focus.
The range of articles address both adult/business and child/student multi-tasking situations, so there’s some good stuff here for your kids and grandkids, too. Here are some of the key points:
- Medical authorities have identified multi-tasking as a contributant to depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and attention deficit. It can have a more negative effect on IQ than marijuana.
- MRI imagery shows that brainpower doesn’t increase to match the workload of doing two things at once, and toggling one’s attention between tasks creates additional stress as the brain tries to prioritize activities.
- Peak performance on a task is hampered by taking on a second task, and completion actually takes longer. You’ll get more done in a day by insisting on blocks of uninterrupted time for specified activities.
- Multi-tasking and its costs have become a concern of insurance underwriters, management consultants, and efficiency engineers.
So, to break yourself of this habit and be at optimum productivity while every minute counts in a down economy,
- Start by setting aside a block of time each day during which you are not interruptible except for an extreme emergency. Define the tasks or groups of tasks you’re going to tackle during this time and address them.
- Prioritize your day’s activities at the beginning of the day, and work down the list, completing each one before moving on to the next.
- Define another block of time as your “open door” time when your colleagues and staff are welcome to bring questions and problems to you. Work on low-priority, routine tasks during this time so being interrupted isn’t a major stressor.
- Group similar tasks together. If you need to make a number of outbound phone calls, do them all in a batch. Don’t get sucked into leaving your e-mail inbox open constantly so that you keep stopping other activities to respond to what just arrived. Rather, check your e-mail at specified intervals throughout your day.
- Keep meetings as short as you can, never more than two hours if possible. Break longer meetings into multiple shorter ones. Stick to your agenda and don’t digress. And, no attendees can make or take phone calls unless emergencies.
- Give your brain a break a couple times a day by just walking around your office or facility for a few minutes without thinking about what you’re working on. Just a short “recharge” will help your brain function more effectively, and relaxing your body a little bit won’t hurt either. Don’t be surprised if you return to your desk in a few minutes with a fresh idea about what you’re doing.
The tired, old adage says that no one, on their deathbed, wishes they’d spent more time at the office. Similarly, I doubt that anyone, at the end of the work day, wishes they’d taxed their brain more heavily. Multi-tasking is a mild form of brain abuse. You’ll be sharper more hours of the day if you minimize the drain and stress on your brain by minimizing interruptions as much as possible and by completing as many tasks as you can before addressing another one.