Oh. Yes. One minute. Just finishing this email. I must send this Tweet. Let me grab that call.
Right, where were we? Oh yes, multitasking.
We live in a world where there is temptation to multitask like never before. We pride ourselves on being able to do three things at once. We power through work by multitasking our way through the day. But do we think it makes us more productive? If so, perhaps we should think again.
At a time when even some job ads stipulate that the successful candidate “must be able to multitask”, some experts are questioning whether it’s even possible to do this. According to Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, “The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits.”
But we multitask every day, I hear you say. Well, it’s true that we can all walk, listen to music and chew gum at the same time – but this doesn’t count. Multitasking is actively thinking about more than one thing at a time.
It’s easy to see why people try to multitask. Working this way gives us a buzz and makes us feel like we’re achieving a lot. We think multitasking gives the impression that we’re capable and proficient employees, juggling lots of projects with ease. We live in a society which admires busy people. Busy equals successful, right? Actually, it’s wrong.
Switching back and forth between tasks leads to lower productivity. Working this way breaks concentration and it takes time to refocus and get up to speed with the new task.
Multitasking can also negatively impact creativity. It uses large amounts of working memory – the part of the brain which allows us to hold and manipulate information for short periods of time. According to research from the University of Illinois in Chicago, people who try to multitask have so much going on in their brains that they find it difficult to daydream and come up with spontaneous ideas and solutions to problems.
The truth is multitasking leads to mistakes and can sometimes be downright dangerous – think driving and texting at the same time. So how can we break the multitasking habit?
One of the keys to this is avoiding interruptions – both in human and electronic form. Close your office door if you have one, or use a sign that signals you’re busy and don’t want to be disturbed (by wearing headphones, for example).
Give yourself blocks of time to complete tasks. This can be 10 minutes or a half a day, but make sure you concentrate only on one task during this time. The often-repeated time management tip to only check your emails twice a day (oh, purlease) isn’t practical for most of us, but closing down your email programme while you spend 30 minutes on an important task will. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter and your mobile phone.
Are you the kind of person who loves to start lots of things? Well, here’s some news for you – it’s finishing them that matters. Use ‘to do’ lists so you get satisfaction from crossing tasks off as you complete them.
And you can save time by grouping tasks together in a logical way. This should mean that you get into a pattern of working which allows you to finish the tasks efficiently. Doing related tasks at the same time is easier for the brain to accept. For example, researching and writing a report on the same subject can work, but writing the report while checking your emails or Facebook won’t.
If you must multitask make sure you do it at times when you don’t need a great deal of concentration. Talking to your best friend on the phone while doing housework might actually be a good use of your time. If you really can’t break your multitasking habit, at least do it when it’s safe and productive.
Now, will you excuse me while I spend half an hour on my emails?
Blog by Jill Harris