Focus: Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work

You’ve seen the job descriptions. Maybe you’ve written them yourself and used phrases like ‘fast-paced environment’ and ‘must be able to prioritise tasks’ etc.

Then you see that familiar phrase:

  • Must be able to multitask

The advert specifies this in the mistaken belief that the person they hire will be more productive.

The thing is, multitasking doesn’t increase productivity. It’s a fallacy.

Multitasking isn’t multitasking at all. It’s switchtasking and it’s bad for business.

Here’s why multitasking doesn’t work:

It makes you less productive

The reality of multitasking is that you’re not giving a single task your whole attention.

The brain is stopping and starting, which costs time because it must keep adjusting to the interruptions.

We make more mistakes and the burden of addressing more than one task at the same time places more demands on our energy.

Ultimately, we’re dividing our attention and becoming less efficient.

It’s quicker to complete one task and then start the other.

Multitasking increases stress

Makes sense really, doesn’t it?

You’re taking on two jobs at the same time, so, naturally, you’re placing yourself under pressure and causing yourself (undue) stress.

The stress of multitasking constantly causes all kinds of negative chaos, from higher turnover and absences from work, to employee morale that’s on the floor and burnout.

Multitasking also diminishes memory, so you could find yourself or your employees struggling to retain important information.

It eats at your bottom line

Multitasking affects the bottom line.

We’re not just talking a little nibble at it here, either, but more of a serious dent in it.

Past research has estimated businesses in the United States to be losing a staggering $650 billion — some £490, 912 billion — per year because of multitasking.

Researchers believed multitasking was stopping employees from concentrating on tasks well enough to perform well or be creative in their roles.

If the accounts aren’t displaying the results you expect and you can’t figure out what’s behind it all, multitasking might just be the hidden cause.

How to handle multitasking

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Dealing with multitasking is a combination of focus, good time management and mindfulness. Both you and your employees can employ the following strategies:

Tackle challenging tasks when you’re most productive

Multitasking doesn’t work, so figure out when you’re most productive and tackle the most challenging tasks at these times.

If you’re most creative during the morning, for instance, that’s the time to look at creative projects. Answer your emails at a time in the day when you’re less productive.

This keeps your brain focused and your mind off other tasks.

Stay present in the moment

While you’re performing a task, watch out for thoughts of other tasks sneaking into your head.

Observe any impulses to switch tasks or to do something other than the task itself.

Note the urge and redirect your attention to the task at hand. Completing the task is the priority.

Get rid of distractions

Switch off notifications on your phone. Social media and emails can wait.

Respond to text messages later.

To perform tasks successfully, shut out distractions. You can even download apps that block you from using social media at the times you specify.

Know your habits

Keep a journal of your day to identify patterns in how you work.

You’ll see when you’re most effective and when you’re not or become easily distracted.

Take steps to change the patterns where necessary and regain your focus.

Say no

Saying yes to projects that you can’t really devote your full time and attention to is a big productivity killer.

It’s better to say no, focus on one project and do it well rather than accept another project, divide your focus between the two and do a mediocre job of both.

When you say no to tasks, don’t reel off a list of reasons. Be brief but to the point.

Schedule time for distractions

To think that you can go the whole day without any interruptions is wishful thinking.

Schedule specific times of the day for email and other distractions.

Instead of checking your email every hour, you could check it when you arrive at the office and when you leave.

If you want to be truly effective in your business, stop multitasking, because multitasking is a myth. It doesn’t exist.

Concentrate on one task at a time.

Be brilliant at it and give the best of yourself.

For the business.

For you.

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