Why Multi-Tasking Is a Myth, Part 1
- by: Hank Berkowitz
- March 24, 2017
The solution doesn’t require you to clone yourself or consistently hit the lottery. You just need a better understanding of what makes you tick at work.
Step 1—Realize that no two people are the same when it comes to personal productivity. So don’t look for a magic “system” or training aid to give you a 10x boost in what you already get done in a day. It’s a personal challenge that only you can solve.
Step 2—There are probably times of the day or week in which you find that you’re more productive than others. Not sure? Try going over you daily time logs, journals, diaries, CRM system or any other places in which you keep track of your work activities for clues.
The main thing is to know when you are most likely to be “in the zone” and schedule you’re heaviest mental lifting for those times. Many productivity experts suggest doing your toughest tasks of the day, first thing in the morning. But, not everyone’s a morning person. Others do their best thinking late at night, when everyone else is asleep and your household, phone and mobile devices are quiet. Others need to clear their desks and heads mentally in the morning and use the afternoon to hit it hard—often right after a vigorous walk or workout during lunch. Some don’t even bother with high-agenda items on Mondays and Fridays when they’re likely to be distracted or exhausted and use the middle days of the week to hit their stride.
Again, the key is to know when you’re most likely to be “in the zone” which is increasingly limited these days. Case in point: Four out of five of you (78%) who responded to our recent InstaPoll said that you your work life has become more complex than it was five years ago.
Multi-tasking increases errors and impedes creativity
Many professionals think they can juggle multiple projects, responsibilities and tasks simultaneously. They think they can finish a presentation while booking cross-country flights and taking urgent calls from frantic clients all at the same time. In reality, experts say, you’re not really multi-tasking as much as you are switching back and forth very quickly from one activity to another.
Unfortunately, with all that rapid-fire switching, you’re not doing any of your activities particularly well. That’s because your brain is working extra hard to handle multiple thoughts simultaneously. It’s like what happens when you have too many windows open on your PC or too many apps running on your phone.
As Dr. Matthew MacKinnon explained in Psychology Today, “science has consistently shown that the human brain can only sustain attention on one item at a time. Our overestimation of our attentional capacity stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of multitasking and of the human attentional system as a whole,” added MacKinnon.
New York Times columnist, Phyllis Korkki recently wrote that “Your ability to get things done depends on how well you can focus on one task at a time, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour.”
When you multitask, experts say you tend to make more mistakes. Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory argues that when you toggle back and forth between tasks, “the neural networks of your brain must backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure.” Miller, who was interviewed for Korkki’s article series, said the extra brain activity causes you to slow down and errors become more likely. That’s why Miller believes people are much more efficient if they mono-task.
According to Miller, the brain is like a muscle that becomes stronger with use and weaker when not challenged. “As with physical exercise, the more we strengthen our mental connections by focusing on one task to the exclusion of all others, the better we can perform,” added Miller.
As far back as the 1930s, Allan F. Mogensen, the creator of work simplification, coined the phrase “work smarter, not harder.” Sorry multi-taskers, but that means doing one thing well at a time, not doing many things half-ass all day long. Next week we’ll look at ways to prevent you from falling into the multi-tasking trap.
TAGS: Mutli-tasking unrealistic, Matthew MacKinnon, Phyllis Korkki, Allan F. Mogensen