I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there are bad multi-taskers and horrible multi-taskers and that is it. I’ve known for a long time that multi-tasking is not an effective way to do things, but it finally hit home after reading a post by James Altucher bluntly titled “Multi-Tasking Will Kill You.” I finally made it a major goal to not multi-task and my productivity has sky rocketed.
See, our brains don’t really multi-task, instead they just go back and forth between disparate tasks and are unable to focus on any. This leads to frustration or a feeling of being overwhelmed which subsequently leads to procrastination or what could be called zero-tasking (which is not very productive in case you were wondering).
Indeed, Wikipedia’s entry on the subject sums up the research on it very well:
Since the 1990s, experimental psychologists have started experiments on the nature and limits of human multitasking. It has been shown multitasking is not as workable as concentrated times. In general, these studies have disclosed that people show severe interference when even very simple tasks are performed at the same time, if both tasks require selecting and producing action (e.g., (Gladstones, Regan & Lee 1989) (Pashler 1994)). Many researchers believe that action planning represents a “bottleneck”, which the human brain can only perform one task at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell has gone so far as to describe multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.”
It even notes that some researchers believe it is impossible to learn new information while multi-tasking. Humans simply don’t multi-task.
Indeed, this all seems obvious when one thinks about it (while not thinking about anything else at the same time of course). Taking one task on with your full attention allows you, to well, take on that task with your full attention. And thus, you dominate said task instead of going through the steps of frustration, feeling overwhelmed and finally, giving in to procrastination.
Sure, it can be difficult at times. Especially for managers who have subordinates asking questions of them at all times about a variety of different subjects. So it’s best to find ways to mitigate this problem. Schedule times to deal with such issues and make sure everyone knows that unless it’s an emergency, save your questions for that time. Try to have a relatively quiet work area. Utilize to do lists and keep your desk clean (cluttered desk = cluttered mind). And if you have to divert your attention to a new matter, put the old one to bed for a while before returning to it.
One thing at a time people.
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