Top reasons to stop multi-tasking

Many years back, I was introduced to the concept that no-one can effectively multi-task. That multi-tasking is not good for us and that it could even be lowering our IQ levels!

There have been many studies on what happens to your brain why you multi-task. Most of them agree that the human brain is capable of handling multiple perceptual and motor functions. But it cannot manage numerous cognitive functions or truly multi-task.

Here’s a little test to prove this. Try thinking about two or more things at the same time. You’ll find that you are switching between the many thoughts, but you don’t have two or more thoughts running through your mind at precisely the same time.  You are not multi-tasking but switch-tasking.

Studies have also shown that when a person multi-tasks, their IQ levels immediately drop by around 10%. That’s the equivalent of trying to function after you’ve had no sleep the night before.

So why should businesses stop or limit their staff multi-tasking?

Firstly we need to understand that switch-tasking more accurately describes what we think of as multi-tasking.  According to productivity expert and author of The Myth of Multi-tasking: “Doing it all gets nothing done”, Dave Crenshaw:

“What we are really doing is switching back and forth between two tasks rapidly, typing here, paying attention there, checking our ‘crackberry’ here, answering voicemail there, back and forth, back and forth at a high rate.  It is these switches that cause people to lose time. In this way, switch-tasking causes us to be exponentially less productive. Keep this up over a long period, and you have deeply ingrained habits that cause stress and anxiety and dropped responsibilities and a myriad of productivity and focus problems.”

Here is a video with a simple exercise in it to demonstrate just how inefficient switch-tasking is:  

​​Monotask to increases productivity and accuracy

By committing your minds full functionality to the task at hand, you not only complete the task quicker than otherwise. But that it is also less prone to errors.  In fact, failure rates in some of the studies were cut by over 50%. And productivity rates increased by around 40% when the participants were asked to focus on one item at a time.

Therefore, by getting your staff to focus and complete one task at a time, you will be increasing their productivity, reduce your re-work rates, and your team will be less stressed and anxious.

Multi-tasking wastes money

Switch-tasking also cost businesses heaps of money.  In an article published in the New York Times, it’s estimated that companies in the US lose around $650 billion in productivity due to their staff being interrupted unnecessarily.  

It costs businesses because, for each interruption, it takes your employees an amount of time to regain focus on what they were working on.  This time is wasted time as your team isn’t progressing with the task but spending time recollecting their thoughts in order to proceed with the work.  Interruptions also split your employee’s attention between the different tasks they doing which increases the possibility of mistakes.

It’s clear to me that all businesses should consider cutting down on the amount of switch-tasking that occurs in their offices to get the most out of their employees.  This is why, over the coming weeks, I’ll be investigating different ways that small businesses can work more efficiently to limit the amount of switch-tasking that occurs and to help increase productivity.  

In the meantime, if you have cut back on the amount of switch-tasking that takes place in your office or small business, let us know how you have done it and what benefits you have achieved.  Use the comments box below as we would love to hear all your ideas!

Definitions

Perceptual Functions – how the brain interprets sensory information (sound, touch, taste and smell) 
Motor Functions –  the brains control of movement
Cognitive Functions – the brains thought processes

Resources

http://www.multitaskingtest.net.au/the-science/impacts-of-multi-tasking

https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/thinking-and-awareness/2019/the-mechanisms-behind-why-we-struggle-with-multitasking-050119

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/14/technology/14email.html?_r=0

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3553130/

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