The Inefficiency of Multitasking

I’ve seen people who believe they’re able to juggle a lot of items; they pride themselves on the ability to “multitask.”  In today’s age of easy access to communication tools and instant responses, multiple demands are placed on us at once. It’s true, some people handle these demands better than others.

The book “The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing it All’ Gets Nothing Done” calls into question whether anyone is actually able to truly multitask well.  The science proves that the term “multitasking” is actually “switch-tasking,” meaning your brain is switching between ideas and thoughts rapidly, not actually working on two things at once.  Each time your brain switches tasks, it takes a few seconds to remember where it was and retrace all the steps it had done before. Therefore it’s much less efficient to work on multiple things at once instead of doing items one at a time.
Here are four changes I’ve made that have positively impacted my daily productivity and created time for uninterrupted, strategic thought. They may help you too: 

  1. Turn off communication “alerts” that repeatedly break your concentration (i.e. instant messaging, email pop-up alerts, text message and voicemail “ding” alerts)
  2. Deactivate voicemail everywhere, but one place (i.e. the office) and check your messages only a couple of times a day
  3. Limit email reading and responding to twice a day 
  4. Schedule time each day where “people interruptions” are kept to a minimum (i.e. close your door, put a sign up on your cube, make your “unavailable hours” known) 

Some jobs require the ability to switch-task well.  Customer Service representatives must be able to jump from task to task and be interrupted at times.  Sales, Account Management and IT Support are all jobs that require some interruptions to be most effective. Even so, creating boundaries that allow us to carve out dedicated time for our most important items every day will improve our effectiveness, both at work and in life.