Would you rather excel at one thing, or do many things poorly? Though the answer may be obvious to some, current working habits show a disturbing trend towards the glorification of multitasking. The verdict is slowly becoming clear: stop multitasking.
Research shows that multitasking not only decreases the quality of the work we do but also makes us do it at a much slower rate. The idea of multitasking as an acceptable, even preferable, way to work is a common misconception for many busy professionals, but the truth is this: almost no one is good at it.
“Multitasking” vs. “Switch-tasking”
The key to understanding the flaws of multi-tasking lies in the fact that 98% of the population don’t actually multi-task; we “switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another, interrupting ourselves unproductively, and losing time in the process”. Only about 2% are good at actual multitasking.
For most of us, we’re not really multi-tasking – we’re actually shifting back and forth from one task to another. All that shifting back and forth between tasks takes our brain some time to refocus. So while it might seem efficient on the surface, it isn’t. – Lisa Quast (Forbes)
The idea that multitasking is necessary is linked to the misconception that everything holds equal importance and time sensitivity. The focus has shifted to trying to fit more into the day, instead of prioritizing and letting the small stuff slide. Studies show that multitasking reduces productivity by close to 40% and that people who are distracted by incoming email or phone calls experience a 10-point fall in their IQs. Some multitaskers have even been shown to develop a dopamine rush from “switch-tasking”, causing grey matter density loss. When you try to complete two tasks at once, it’s been proven that neither task is going to get your full attention. Lack of attention leads to problems. Problems lead to things having to be redone. Therefore multitasking can actually increase your workload instead of reducing it.
Work Smarter, not harder
As if that wasn’t bad enough, multitasking isn’t just inefficient: it’s stressful. Harvard Business Review’s Peter Bregman says, “Because multitasking is so stressful, single-tasking to meet a tight deadline will actually reduce your stress. In other words, giving yourself less time to do things could make you more productive and relaxed.” Additional research out of Stanford University found that “chronic multitaskers” actually performed worse than the “occasional multitaskers”. The conclusion? Unlike almost everything else in your life, “the more you multitask, the worse you are at it”.
“Model the behavior you want to see. Give others your full attention. Ask your team to create boundaries for meetings, such as laptops closed, no checking cell phones, everyone participates, each person is asked to voice their opinion at the end of a discussion, etc.”
Distractions will happen, but what really matters is how you are able to minimize and recover from them. According to Bregman,”Single-tasking can allow you to make significant progress on challenging projects, the kind that — like writing or strategizing — requires thought and persistence.” It won’t happen overnight, but breaking free of multitasking will ultimately boost productivity, reduce stress and improve not just your bottom line, but all areas of life. If anyone on your team needs convincing, the prospect of a healthy 40% boost to productivity should do the trick.