Guilty as charged! In the past I’ve been a master multitasker, or so I thought. I could answer a phone call, respond to an email, and dabble on a project simultaneously. I was satisfied that I could work on several projects at once. I felt efficient and productive. In reality, the quality of my work was compromised.
Many of us, employers included, praise the team member who touts their multitasking abilities. We perceive that having the ability to do several things at one time is a positive trait. My hope is that after you read this post, you will have a better understanding of the downsides of multitasking, the cost to your bottom line, and be able to lead your team to performance improvement.
Take a look at 5 of my favorite finds on the pitfalls of multitasking:
Multitasking Lowers IQ
My favorite statistic on multitasking comes from a study done by the University of London. The study found that “people who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines similar to what they would find if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.” If you think the multitasker on your team is a superhero, think again.
Multitasking Lowers EQ – Emotional Intelligence
Dr. Travis Bradberry; co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart, tells us that “multitasking in meetings or other social settings indicates low self- and social-awareness, two emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that are critical to success at work. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers have high EQs.” Read his full article here.
Multitasking Slows You Down
Most multitaskers think they are saving time; when in fact, it will take you longer to finish the projects you are jumping back and forth on instead of focusing on one at a time. Research shows that switching between tasks reduces productivity by up to 40 percent. You really aren’t multitasking, you are task-switching. Your attention moves to the act of switching tasks rather than being focused on the current task. Assign a time frame to complete each item on your to-do list and avoid distractions at all costs.
Multitasking Increases Stress Levels
Think a few quick peeks at email while working on other activities won’t lower your performance? Researchers at the University of California Irvine measured the heart rates of employees with and without constant access to email. The results – employees with a flow of email notifications and messages stayed in constant “high alert” mode and had higher heart rates than those who prevented email interruptions.
The researchers reported that it’s not only the physical act of multitasking that causes stress, it’s the consequences. Performance is reduced and mistakes are made – which in turn; triggers stress, lowers self-esteem, and can contribute to depression.
Multitasking = Mistakes
Multitasking increases your chances of making mistakes and missing important information according to Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, a book from Harvard Health Publications. Instead of multitasking, they suggest set shifting. “This means consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next, and focusing on the task at hand. Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility.” To learn more about Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, visit the Harvard Health Publications website.
Multitasking comes with costs. Make it a priority to talk with your team about the power of focus and lead them to healthy habits, improved organization, and time management with these ideas:
- Turn off email notifications. Set scheduled times to check and respond to emails.
- Create a daily task management system. Complete the most difficult task first thing in the morning rather than working on bits and pieces throughout the day.
- Practice set shifting. Consciously shift your attention from one task to the next.
- Use timeboxing techniques. Work in 30 to 50 minute intervals with 5-minute breaks. Decrease or increase your time intervals depending on the task. You will accomplish more than you think when you work in time intervals without distractions.
- Keep a journal of activities that cause distraction and identify solutions to manage them.
Hats off to you as you master unitasking!
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