We are all multitaskers. We talk while we drive, we answer text messages and emails during meetings, we return phone calls while surfing the Internet, we cook dinner while talking on the phone, etc. We are always doing more than one thing at a time. And if we are doing just one thing, like driving, we feel like we should be doing more!
Most of us are overscheduled, with too many things to do and not enough time to do it. So we multitask, thinking this helps us be more efficient and productive.
But the truth is it doesn’t. Studies point to the same conclusions: Multitasking actually makes us less productive, less efficient, and more prone to mistakes. Performance actually decreases when a person does too many tasks.
Researchers with the American Psychological Association found that trying to do two tasks simultaneously—for example, listening to a presentation while answering emails—resulted in decreased productivity in both tasks.
Researchers also found that switching back-and-forth between too many tasks hurt productivity. They found that a worker who is asked to switch between researching and writing reports, answering phones, and interacting with co-workers lost 20 to 40 percent in efficiency. This is called task switching, and it hurts productivity because it takes longer to get back to the original work.
The very best way to get something done? Focus on a single thing. Multitasking is simply not an effective way to work.
So, how do we stop it?
Well, it’s tough, because multitasking is now a firmly engrained habit. But, as with all habits, this one may be broken with some simple strategies and discipline. Here are some tips to help you learn to do one thing at a time:
If you can’t silence your phone or text alerts at work, at the very least learn to prioritize them. Unless you absolutely need to take that call, let it roll to voicemail. Don’t let distractions distract you!
Multitasking and overscheduling are really just bad habits that can be broken with a little understanding and a little discipline. Understand that shifting or splitting your mental attention actually costs you efficiency. By doing less, saying no, and being mindful of the task at hand, you will actually be doing more and better work. Good luck!