Why do so many people still insist on doing ten things at once as a means for increasing productivity? Software is supposed to make our lives easier, not inspire us to simultaneously communicate and work via six different technologies.
A study conducted at Stanford University shows how multitasking adds stress to our daily lives, and negatively affects our mood, motivation and productivity:
People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time, a group of Stanford researchers has found.
Still willing to believe in the power of multitasking? Here are 7 good reasons why you should start single-tasking immediately.
Some people pride themselves on being able to juggle multiple objectives at once. But when you do that, your mind is never really focused on any one task. It often happens that we meet a new person and instantly forget their name – that’s because our minds are distracted and are unable to process or retain that new information.
This inability to concentrate can impact your professional life but also has implications on personal experiences and relationships. Doing a few things at once, you never really focus on anything or deeply connect with others (customer, coworkers, friends, or family). When we fail to live in the present, we are essentially only half-living.
This is a logical consequence of the lack of focus characteristic of multitasking. When doing several things at once, your mind is divided between them so it’s only natural that your mistakes will multiply. And according to the Stanford research, multitaskers are terrible at filtering out irrelevant information. That means that there is sure to be some mental cross-firing and overlap between tasks.
Can you really afford to make those mistakes? Probably not. That’s why each task should receive your full attention, separately.
That’s right, it affects your memory.
In 2011, the University of California, San Francisco published a research study showing how quickly shifting from one task to another impacts short term memory.
Needless to say, the impact is always negative and becomes increasingly apparent as you get older. Just because you can handle your tasks right now doesn’t mean that in 5 or 10 years you’ll be able to go on about your life in the same way. And it’s always better to cultivate healthy habits early on.
A major downside of multitasking is that feeling of anxiety which plagues people who consistently divide their attention. This study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, shows that the symptoms of interrupted work range from psychological to physical.
They performed a test which measured the heart rates of employees with and without access to office email. Those who could access their emails remained wired up – they exhibited higher heart rates than those who didn’t have access. On the other hand, the second group was observed to perform their jobs relatively stress-free.
Devoting your attention to too many tasks at once, you will never have working memory left to come up with ideas and concepts that are truly creative. Yes, you’ll get your assignments done in an average rate and scope, but greatness will be beyond your reach.
When we are anxious (see #4 above), our bodies start accessing more primitive brain structures that are designed to keep us safe from danger. When that happens we stop accessing other areas like the frontal lobe that have adapted for critical thinking and creativity.
When you distractedly attempt to complete small tasks while also trying to complete a large one, you’ll soon see how they actually eat up more of your time rather than saving it. The mind has to reset to each task following the shift.
We also are unable to maintain flow states. You have probably felt this before, like when you read a captivating novel and time stands still. You look up from the pages hours later, surprised by how much you’ve read. In the business context, getting in flow can increase productivity by 5 times!
How many times a day do you read or write status updates on your phone? If your thumb is permanently locked in reading news stories on the web the entire day, the rest of you isn’t really living. Only connecting with your immediate surroundings or interacting fully with other human beings can give you that sense of deep fulfillment.
Considering all of these reasons, it’s easy to see why the power of multitasking is a myth that has never actually helped anybody to efficiently accomplish anything that matters. So what can you do about it? Here are some ideas to increase productivity and decrease stress:
– Create more structure to your work. Perform highly creative tasks in the morning and then take a short break before moving on to each different task.
– Put your inbox on pause for an hour or two. At the very least stop answering your emails right away. This “trains” others not to expect immediate responses.
– Share weekly goals and accomplishments with others. When you publicly commit to certain priorities and fail to accomplish them, that could motivate you to find a better way to actually get things done next week.
Now stop reading blog posts and get back to work!