woman multitasking

Multi-tasking is a myth and here’s why!

It is an essential requirement for many job positions. We see it in job postings – “Must be able to multi-task“. I have heard it in interviews, “Can you give me an example of when you multi-tasked?” and I have had to multi-task in many of my previous job positions and when raising my family.

OK, so lets talk about multi-tasking when raising a family – it is a requirement for sure. For example, you are holding your child and your cell phone rings – it is an important call that you have been waiting for. You answer the phone and start talking while keeping your child busy, not wanting the child to cry while you are on the phone. I get it. Sometimes we need to multi-task.

But what about multi-tasking when it comes to your work and job performance?

Is it a good idea? I don’t think it is. I honestly believe the less multi-tasking you do, the better you will perform. When we are multi-tasking we are doing multiple cognitive tasks at the same time, and that is really difficult to do. For example: Let’s say you are reading a memo for work, and you remember you have to send out an email, so you stop reading and start typing the email. When you go back to the memo, you are likely to forget some or all of what you were reading. Now you have to go back and re-read the memo, taking more time than if you had finished reading it before writing your email.

I think of multi-tasking as a myth because we really can’t do two things at once.

Instead we are switching from one task to another. We can only think about one thing at a time, we can only learn one thing at a time and we can only talk about one thing at a time. You see what I mean? One thing at a time. The exception to the rule is that we can do one physical thing while doing one mental thing. For example, we can walk and talk at the same time or we can cook dinner while talking on the phone (although some people will say that you are more likely to burn your supper if you are talking on the phone). But I think you get what I mean.

The biggest myth is that multi-tasking increases productivity – this is proven not to be the case.

Let’s talk about problems with multi-tasking

– More mistakes will happen with multi-tasking.

That’s a given.

-Over stimulation in our brain.

When we get too much information in our brains at once, we are actually draining our energy and resources.  

-Causes us stress

According to Psychology Today, Neuroscientist Dan Levitan reminds us that multi-tasking is stressful. This is indicated by increased secretion of cortisol and adrenaline. He also cites work showing that IQ can temporarily drop 10 points during multi-tasking. Yikes!

-Drop in productivity

We are not as productive if we multi-task, even though we think we are because we are working on more than one thing at a time. That’s not always the case. You can be working on a few things at once and none of them get done. Another fun fact from Psychology Today is that each task that we switch from might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if we switch between tasks multiple times in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.

-When we try to do two things at once, our brains lack the capacity to perform both tasks at once.

According to Psychology Today, switching from one task to another drains the glucose fuel needed by the brain, making the brain less efficient and creating the feeling of being tired.

-Our ability to remember information when we are multi-tasking goes down.

This means we are less likely to learn new information if we are multi-tasking.

-Multi-tasking can be addictive.

You may be thinking What?? Addictive? But it is true. Let’s talk about the best example: cell phones. You are out for dinner with friends and your phone pings, you look over and start using your phone while having a conversation with your friends. Or you are watching television while scrolling through social media on your phone. Right?? I know I have done it as well. What about checking your phone messages? Most of us want to check our messages as soon as the notification pings. Having cell phones can be addicting. Take a walk down a busy street and watch to see just how many people are walking and checking their phones. I see it all the time.

So what should we do?

We should stop multi-tasking. Or at least try to. Instead try to focus on one thing, minimize any distractions and get it done.

**I am going to go into how to minimize distractions, but before I do, I just wanted to let you know about a new 90 day program that I am launching in January 2020. I am super excited and can’t wait to help those with clutter clear their clutter once and for all. You will get 6 personal coaching calls with me, where we will dive deep into why you have clutter, and I will provide you with the steps you need to get your home organized. That’s not all! There will be more included in the program and I will be sharing all the details very soon.  I can’t wait to share it with you!

OK on to how we can minimize distractions.

Here’s how we can minimize distractions

1.Turn off notifications 
2.Turn off social media
3.Set a timer or schedule tasks in your calendar so you can focus on one task at a time.

For example: schedule 20 mins, 3 times a day to check social media. Schedule a time to answer emails instead of answering each one as they come in. Do the same for phone calls – schedule time to return phone calls instead of doing it multiple times throughout the day.

4.If you find the task you are doing boring, hang in there

and finish it, instead of grabbing your phone or hopping on social media, which will just waste time and leave you with a task that still isn’t complete. We often grab our phones when we are bored. Right?

5.Seek a quiet place to work.

This will definitely help minimize distractions. To give you an example, I typically schedule my time to record my podcasts on Sundays. Why do I do this? Because there are less people in my office building on Sundays and therefore less distractions for me. Now, you may not want to work on a Sunday, and I get it, but for me, I can get more work done because it is quieter here. And I could always take another day of the week off if I really wanted to.

6.Reduce the amount of clutter you have.

You didn’t think I’d forget to mention clutter did you? This is so true. If you have paper piles or items placed all over the place, then you are forced to multi-task. If you are working on a task and you can’t find what you are looking for, you end up stopping what you are doing to find it, resulting in lost time and productivity.

7.Track your distractions.

You may not even realize when you are the most distracted until you start tracking it. Keep a list or log of when you get the most distracted and create a plan to stop the distractions.

8.Don’t take on too much.

The more tasks we add, the more work we will have to do. This increases the chance of having to switch between multiple tasks. Keep in mind that when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else, because we can only do so much in a day. Learn to say no more often.

9.Let others know you are working on a task and don’t want to be interrupted.

You can do this at home by letting your family know and at work by letting your colleagues know.

10.Put a note on your door saying not to disturb.

If you can, put a time when you will be free so that people know that you are busy now but they can come back later.

How can we manage distractions?

There will always be distractions of one form or another but we can try to reduce the amount of times we are distracted.

1.When you get distracted, write down what you were just about to do.

For example, you are working on a task and a work colleague asks you to come and look at something. Before you go look, quickly write down what you were just about to do. Do the same thing at home if a family member interrupts while you are working on something important. Ask the family member to give you one minute, and write down what you were just going to do, so that when you come back you don’t have to figure out where you left off.

2.Decide which task has the highest priority.

When someone interrupts you and asks you to do something, decide which task is the highest priority. Do you leave what you are doing and go help the other person, or do you tell them that you are working on something really important and you will help them when you’re finished? I think we tend to want to help others, so our first reaction is to go and help them, but if the task can wait then we need to let them know that we will help once we’re finished the current task.

3.Put a reminder in your phone or set a timer.

If you are in the middle of doing something and you have to stop to go and do something else, and if you have time, put a reminder in your phone to finish your task. Sometimes we stop what we are doing to go and help someone else and then we forget to go back to what we were doing. It is important to have some kind of reminder system in place to remind you to finish what you were doing prior to being interrupted.

Here are a couple of quick tips on how to be the most productive.

1.Ask yourself when are you the most alert?

Are you a morning person or do you work better in the evening? When you are the most alert, is when you should tackle your most highly focused tasks.

2.Take breaks.

Breaks are important to take when working or we get tired and then we aren’t as productive. A quick break (a trip to the water cooler or washroom even) will help increase your productivity.

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