< Back to Insights

How to Stop Multitasking

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:

  1. Try task scheduling. Make a schedule of when you will do certain tasks, like check your email, return phone calls, check your LinkedIn or Facebook pages, etc. And then stick to it. Get in the habit of scheduing these things. If you are checking them every five minutes you’ll lose focus.
  1. Minimize distractions. You’ve trained yourself to respond every time you hear a ding or a ping or see that little red number pop up in your mailbox, so turn those features off. Silence your phone if you can.

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!

  1. Learn to say no. One of the reasons people multitask is they are overwhelmed. We are often our own worst enemies here—we take on too many commitments. Learn to say no or “let me think about it” before you take on a commitment. Do you really want to do whatever is being asked of you? Is it going to make you happy or help your career? Think it through before saying yes.
  1. Lighten the load at work. If you are overscheduled and overwhelmed at work, talk to your boss. Explain that you simply can’t get everything done, or can’t adapt to changes or problem solving because you are bogged down. You don’t necessarily have to say no, but you do have to look at what is already on your plate and be realistic about the quality and quantity of work you can do.
  1. Prioritize. Get out your calender, your to-do list, or whatever way you document your workload. Look it over. Now, prioritize it. Identify the things that absolutely positively must get done v. those that are less important.
  1. Be present. A great way to stop multitasking is to be mindful of exactly what you are doing when you are doing it. It’s called mindfulness, and it’s a form of meditation. When you are writing an email, focus on that email and just on that eamil. When you are speaking to a colleague, focus on that colleague. When you are in a meeting, focus on the speaker. You have to (re)train your brain to get used to doing one thing at a time. Be mindful, pay attention, and stay focused.

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!


Learn more about Coaching Assessments...

Click Here