Monday, November 2, 2009

Myth-Busters: Multi-Tasking

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” - Lord Chesterfield

Obviously, Lord Chesterfield didn’t live in the 21st Century! Americans love to multi-task. We have to because we are busy, busy, busy! We drive while putting on make-up and talking on the phone. At work, we reply to emails while on conference calls. We return phone calls while walking on the treadmill. With the aid of a little technology, we can do it all! But can we? Consider the following.

* A study by the University of London Institute of Psychiatry found “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.”

* Researchers at the University of California at Irvine monitored interruptions in the workplace and found workers took an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from interruptions such as phone calls or answering e-mail and return to their original task.

* And we’ve all encountered the multi-tasking driver who’s either wrapped up in his/her cell phone conversation or texting.

Times may have changed but our brains have not. The problem is the more you multitask the more difficult it is for your brain to switch between tasks. It takes time for your brain to make the switch … the same time you think you are saving. Your memory is also negatively affected by multitasking.

So what’s a busy person to do?

Do It Anyway: Multi-tasking works best when you are working when at least one of the tasks is inconsequential and doesn’t require too much thought. Checking voicemail or returning a call while walking the dog. You can write your to-do list while you are on the train. You should be able to use the treadmill while chatting on the cell phone. However, if the task is important or requires effort or attention, then it requires your focus…

Find Your Focus: Take small amounts of time to focus on a single task. Spend 10 minutes reading and returning emails. Devote 20 minutes to writing the proposal. You will be surprised that a dedicated focus will actually improve your productivity.

Tame the Technology Tiger: It is okay to temporarily turn your ringer off. Believe it or not, most calls aren’t urgent. Also close your email application so those annoying notifications don’t pop up every time you get an email. Instead, make a commitment to check your email at the top (and maybe bottom) of every hour or maybe after you finish each focused time period.

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