The Disruptive Cost Of Multi-Tasking

How often are you interrupted in a day? I am not referring to visitors dropping in to pay you unannounced visits, or the little ones wanting to play with you since you work from home. I am referring to the flood of emails, phone calls and text messages that bombard you throughout the day.

While increasing workload and tighter deadlines, you try to cramp all you need to do in the little time you have. Office workers and entrepreneurs alike start doing what mothers do so well – they multi-task.

Disruptive Cost of Multi Tasking
Does This Look Familiar?

Multitasking has become a workplace buzzword as blackberry and ipod push mainstream culture into a 24/7 stand by lifestyle. So much so that you begin to feel uncomfortable and out of touch if you are without your gadgets for a few hours.

Well, I have news for you. Your brain can only make one decision at a time. As you multi-task your brain is not handling all the tasks at once, it is switching back and forth between tasks. The constant effort means that doing even just two or three things at once puts far more demand on our brains compared with if we did them one after another.

This is what multi-tasking does to you:

Reduces your intelligence – A study carried out at the British Institute of Psychiatry found that excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence and that those distracted by incoming e-mail and phone calls saw a ten-point fall in their IQ, over twice the impact of smoking or marijuana use.

Pretty scary huh?

Wastes your time – Another study reports that the American worker wastes 2.1 hours per day due to multitasking. When distracted while performing a task, it takes time to get yourself into the context of the new task and complete the new task. And then it takes recovery time to get back on track with the original task.

Compromises productivity – multitasking makes us less effective, not more. Your digital assistants are tools don’t serve them. Do not allow them to break your focus. That task switch takes up a longer time. It is easier to keep going once the juice is flowing and you are going at full steam than to abruptly stop and do something unrelated and re orientate to finish up the original later. That may take 3 times as long to do the same amount of work because now you have to retrieve all your background information and bring it back to the consciousness of your mind.

Introduces health risks – When you go back and forth between browsing the Internet to talking on a cell phone, you are using different parts of your brain. The mental processes involved in switching tasks takes up time and effort. It tires you out easily.

You get overwhelmed, mental burnout, anxiety and this may to depression. You need more time to get the same amount of work done and that taxes your brain switching between tasks. The quality of the work suffers and you do not get the sense of achievement. You know you can do better work but multi-tasking has robbed you of performing at your best. Another form of work related stress.

Lowers the threshold of distractibility – The fast paced multi tasking culture is pushing you to be more easily distractible and less able to focus over sustained periods of time. Just how often you look at your blackberry? You are almost anticipating the next alert; your mind is not really concentrating on the task at hand. And you continue to program yourself to expect to be distracted.

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What can we do about this?

Turn off your email alerts, tweet deck, blackberry, facebook chats, RSS feeds and maybe even your phone when you are doing creative work.

Then check your in box and voice mails at schedule times. Try that for a couple of days and see if it allows you to be more efficient.

Focus on the present; one task at a time.  I can not emphasize this enough. Less is really more. Mono is really better than multi in this case.

Try this especially if you suffer attention deficits disorder.

Chunk your time – schedule what you need to do into chunks of time. Do all you related work in one sitting. Take short breaks in between that uses different parts of the brain. Better still get out of your chair and do some physical movements.  Break the state and then proceed to the next task. This way, you make sure all you need to do will be attended to and you will get more done in shorter time with better results – gotta love that productivity.

Practice having quiet moments in your day, whether it is morning, lunch time or just before you retire to bed. Some quiet meditation and deep breathing will quiet your mind and help you regain focus and attention span and set you up for a more focus and successful day.

Additional resources available to help you reduce stress.

11 comments on “The Disruptive Cost Of Multi-Tasking

  1. Great article Louisa, I really needed it – at a time of too many demands and very little time to do all this including one’s own personal freetime. You are right ADD persons suffer ever more – you can tell me that!

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