You are at work and your colleague interrupts you. You answer him and head back to work when your phone beeps. By the time you are done with a call, you have to run to a meeting. Do you end up pulling your hair trying to focus in a world filled with distractions?
In this article, you will learn to focus on one task at a time. You will know the science behind multitasking and it’s effect on your productivity. The awareness alone will contribute to your long term success.
When you are in a voice conference meeting, what are you doing throughout the meeting? Are you replying to an email or analyzing a report or fixing a bug in the code? Is multitasking on various tasks a common practice in your everyday routine?
Leave a comment on what kind of tasks do you multitask on.
Multitasking helps you get more done, where you are paying attention to the meeting as well as getting tasks completed, right?
If indeed you were able to pay attention to the call and the task you were doing simultaneously, why do you say “Sorry, what was that again?” when someone asks you a question on what was spoken on the call a moment ago?
This article is Step 8 – 7 reasons why multitasking cost me of Phase 2: Gain Momentum with Routine of the 3 phase transformation into superhuman productivity. You can begin right from step 1 by accessing the index here – 3 Phase Transformation into Living Your Dreams.
To understand the purpose behind the activity I recommend you to read through the article. But, for the busy bees, you can go directly to the exercise.
- Categories of Multitasking
- Why Multitasking is bad for your brain
- Multitasking and Cognition
- Exercise: Stop Multitasking to increase productivity
- Frequently Asked Questions
Categories of Multitasking
So what is multitasking? Well, we all know what multitasking is with no introduction. However, the different ways in which you multitask is not always very apparent.
Multitasking can be categorized into primarily 2 types:
Performing two tasks at the same time: Talking on the phone and frying an omelet.
Switching from one task to another without completing the first task: You are working on planning the next big thing to rule the world when you receive an email notification asking for a file that is right on your desktop.
We all encounter and perform both of these scenarios on a daily basis. If you are like most people, you will choose to multi-task. In a world of distractions, switching from one thing to another seems like the easiest and most efficient thing to do.
But it is not!
Why Multitasking is bad for your brain
A little known truth is our brains are simply not wired for multi-tasking. In fact, as per estimates, only 2% of the world population can multi-task effectively. The funny part however is, the people who are a part of that 2% are the least likely to multi-task.
Ironically, the reverse is true where the people who are the worst at multitasking are those who multitask the most. It is a common mistake to believe you and I are part of that 2%.
Nothing against you. It is only because mathematically the odds are against you.
There has been tons of research done to prove multitasking is bad and leads to loss of productivity. Thinking you get more done by multitasking is a myth which has been long busted. It only gives you a false illusion that you have completed a ton of tasks. In reality, doing them one after the other would have yielded faster results.
The negative effects of Multitasking
We think moving from one task to another a simple switch. In reality, it is not as simple as you think.
You are at work, doing your job at hand while also answering a text every 5 minutes. How much harm could a little texting do, right?
Let me tell you how much of an impact a little texting causes. You feel each text consumes very small time intervals, but they total up to a massive amount. In addition to that, after you check your phone, place it back on the desk and get back to work, attention residue consumes additional time.
This is because after you check your phone, the distraction doesn’t end there. The thoughts around what you just saw on the phone linger around for a bit. When you have got back to work, your focus on the task is hampered due to these residual thoughts.
Let me give you some numbers. Let us say you check your phone 10 or more times an hour, which is a pretty common occurrence in the current world. You roughly spend 1 each time to check the phone and 1 min on attention residue. In total, you end up wasting 20 mins every hour which is a whopping 33% of the time.
Multitasking and Cognition
Task switching involves multiple areas of your brain. While a switch in itself might only take a fraction of a second, the focus dilution can lead to even 40% of productivity loss over the whole day.
You can do one cognitive thing at a time, just one. Your conscious brain can only focus on one thing at a time. You can either listen or read, you can either talk or type, you can either think or write(unrelated topic to thought).
It is only a false assumption that we can do multiple tasks together. The only exception is when you are so used to doing a task that your subconscious mind does it on autopilot. It is possible to do a cognitive task while subconsciously you also perform another task. For example, you can talk on the phone and walk or you can think while tying your shoelaces. This is because one of these tasks, like walking or tying laces, is being performed subconsciously without any conscious thought. But multitasking is not possible when you are performing two tasks, both of which need you to think.
If you believe you are that good at multi-tasking, try holding a conversation(either in person or on the phone) and reply to an email that requires some thought. I guarantee you that you cannot do both of them together effectively.
Driving is not completely subconscious
Neither can you drive while texting or speaking on the phone. Wait, I thought driving was subconscious and you said you could do a cognitive task along. Why can’t I talk on the phone while driving?
If that was true, why do people keep banging their cars while they are on the phone?
While it is true driving is a subconscious action, reaction to an unknown situation is not. You can speak on the phone while driving when everything on the road is life as usual. For example, going down the straight path, changing gears, accelerating, taking the bend and so on.
If at all an unexpected situation comes up, like the guy in front brakes suddenly or the driver in the next lane cuts you, your reaction to such a situation is not subconscious driven. It requires your conscious brain to make a quick decision. You have to switch from one cognitive task of speaking on the phone to reacting to sudden braking. This takes a fraction of a second. The small fraction, as small as it sounds, is the reason behind life and death on many occasions.
If you think you using hands free while driving is safe, you are gravely mistaken!
Exercise: Stop Multitasking to increase productivity
To do things faster, do yourself a favor and stop multi-tasking. Follow the model of Deep Work doing one thing at a time. Try to focus on one task at hand, get it done and then move to the next one. It is not uncommon to have a sudden flash of memory where you remember a task you had to complete.
Avoid the temptation to do the task right then unless it is the need of the hour. In most cases, no hell breaks loose if you complete the task later. So write it down to help you recall it later.
As an exercise, you must try to work on only one task at a time from now.
We all have situations where someone walks up to you asking for something. If you have followed the rules of eliminating distractions, you should have made attempts to minimize access to your during your focused working hours in the first place. Even after the restricted access attempts, if you were unable to prevent people from reaching out to you, politely mention you will get back to them by a specified time. Any sane person will not mind it. If he does, ignoring him was the right thing to do anyway.
Remember the mantra from now on: No multitasking. Every time you try to get more done by multitasking, you are only getting less work done.
Frequently Asked Questions
Multitasking is good where one activity can be done easily without any thought, like jogging or frying an omelet. If you multitask by writing an email and holding a conversation, you will realize the ill effects of trying to do many things simultaneously.
Only 2% of the world population can multitask without impacting productivity. Chances are those 2% aren’t even aware of their abilities.
By multitasking at your workplace, you might create an impression of doing a lot. But your productivity takes a hit without your knowledge. You will get more done by doing one thing at a time.
In this article, you have learned how multitasking works for a human being. You now have a realization of how harmful multitasking is to your productivity.
Going forward, you must aim to work on one task at a time with complete focus. It is not the easiest to do when you start off. Work on getting into the groove of working with focus. You will not be able to work any other way.
Leave a comment on what do you intend to change about your multitasking working style.
This article is Step 8 – 7 reasons why multitasking cost me of Phase 2: Gain Momentum with Routine of the 3 phase transformation into superhuman productivity. You can begin right from step 1 by accessing the index here.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.