There’s no such thing as multi-tasking!
You may pride yourself on your ability to watch the TV news, eat dinner and have a conversation with your family all at the same time but this is not real multi-tasking. None of these tasks can end your career or your life if you get them wrong so your focus can wander without much consequence. You have doubtless witnessed many people like I have, answer telephone calls from customers, type emails or enter data into CRM fields and deal with a question or request from a colleague while checking their mobile for a text from their partner – seemingly all in the same breath.
These people are like ‘machines’, they are always busy, always doing something and always on the move, but are they really multi-tasking? My experience has shown, that they are actually accomplishing only one task at a time. They are simply more adept at switching focus when interrupted and then switching back. It may come as a surprise – that this is not a healthy thing to do. Research conducted here in Australia, by Dr Julia Irwin, Senior lecturer in psychology at Macquarie University showed that multi-tasking did not improve effectiveness, in fact it reduced effectiveness and further it had such a negative effect that it diminished a person’s IQ by around 10 points.
That’s not all – it gets worse. Neuroscientists at the University of Sussex have discovered, that multi-tasking actually causes brain damage. The shift from one stream of conscious thought to another causes stress on the brain – like constantly changing tracks on a railway line puts huge stresses on that infrastructure. The heightened stress causes the death of brain cells and ultimately memory loss. Switching from a detailed task like writing or reviewing a report to even a simple task like reading a short email or responding to a family text has been shown to take people off task.
In fact, even a short distraction of less than a minute that takes someone off a complex task disrupts them so much that it takes on average over 15 minutes to return to the level of immersion they left. This down time when people are re-reading their work, getting back their context and re-immersing themselves is lost and becomes wasted business time.
The remedy is so simple it’s almost stupid…. Just do one thing at a time!
Further to this research, I have found that not only doing one thing at a time, but also staying on task until it is completed, produces the best results in the shortest timeframe with the least amount of stress.
I like to call it the ‘Do it ‘til it’s done!’ methodology.
Once again, it’s remarkably simple to understand….
Just sit down and work until the task is complete! I know you’re all going to tell me – some tasks are too large or complex for that and that, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ And you are right but this doesn’t mean you can’t, ‘Do it ‘til it’s done’, it just means you have to plan better. Plan to work on one task at a time – by breaking the complex into smaller achievable tasks and focus on one at a time. Trying to manage a large and complex project or even an entire program of large and complex projects that are all inter-connected with inter-dependencies and criticalities is not easily achieved.
Knowing that switching between tasks causes brain stress and reduces our effectiveness – the only solution is to allocate tasks well, and allow people to focus on a single task at a time, to achieve the best outcome.
When I write – it’s headphones on, volume up and ‘Do it ‘til it’s done!’ – no multi-tasking in sight.