Multitasking is hurting you – try switchtasking instead

Paperwork attackThe science on multitasking seems settled. Doing more than one thing at the same time reduces the effectiveness with which you do each of those various tasks. Mistakes are greater and your memory of the details within those tasks are greatly reduced. You’re simply not operating at your full potential. Need more evidence? The University of London found that multitasking lowered IQs by as much as 15 points. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to lose any of those points!

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are good at multitasking, but the cruel reality is that we don’t even have the capacity to make that judgment since, according to cognitive psychologist Art Markman, the very areas of your brain that monitor performance are the same areas activated while multitasking. While you may think you are simultaneously reading an email while talking on your phone and evaluating a report just placed on your desk, you aren’t. You are actually quickly juggling your attention between all three activities. Cognitive whack-a-mole.

Instead, consider switch-tasking. Rather than juggling two or more simultaneous events, focus completely on one and then upon its completion or your need for either a break or tending to a more important task, switch. Discipline yourself to work on one thing at a time. Someone just entered your office? Either tell them they must come back or drop what you are doing and completely focus on the visitor. One task at a time.

You need to know yourself. How good is your focus and concentration? How quickly can you get into the focus-zone? Do you easily succumb  to distraction? These questions will help you build your best personal switchtasking habits. For example, if you are easily distracted, be aware of how frequently you switch tasks and maybe turn off the alert informing you of new email. If you can quickly enter the focus-zone, you can switch between disparate tasks, while if you have trouble quickly getting into focus, try switching between more related tasks so that your brain doesn’t need to make as large a leap.

Try these few techniques to improve the amount of work you accomplish.

  1. Stop doing more than one thing at a time. Maybe it’s time to admit that multitasking is not bringing out your best. Start exercising your focus by attending to only one thing at a time.
  2. Be clear on your priorities. In a mutlitasking environment, work tends to be driven by outside forces rather than by real priorities. Do you effectively use a to-do list and calendar?
  3. Give yourself “brain breaks”. Our brain uses more energy than any other part of our body, so it needs replenishment. Get up and walk around your building or engage in some other activity that gets the blood moving more and gives you a mental break.
  4. Be honest with yourself about how well you focus. Self-awareness is key in knowing how best to switchtask. Do you need breaks between tasks, or can you go directly from one to the other? Are you effective at switching between tasks requiring diverse skills or do you need to migrate more gently between similar tasks?
  5. Eat healthy “live” food throughout your work day. Heavy fatty foods drain you of energy. Look for tasty convenient foods that supply you energy rather than drain it.

Remember that activities typically require 30 days to become habits. For the next month, replace your multitasking habit with focused switchtasking.



About Mike Lake

Mike is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Evergreen Trading. When not playing jazz trombone he is probably obsessing about writing content that will capture the attention and interest of business people and fellow learning junkies everywhere.

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