Like me, you likely find that you have more and more tasks to do, but the amount of time you have to do them stays the same. I have worked very hard at being able to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously while maintaining the belief that I could get more done in less time. For a long time, I believed it worked. But when I started looking closer, I realized that it wasn’t working out as well as I thought it was. As I looked into the research, I found that multi-tasking does not allow one to achieve more in less time.
My concerns started after I was having a conversation on the phone with a friend, but could hear him typing in the background. I realized that he was not paying full attention to what we were talking about and that the conversation was taking much longer than it needed to. I had to repeat questions and could sense a distant and unfocused tone from my friend. I wasn’t upset with him, but concerned about myself. Do I do that? I was disappointed to realize that I do. Not all the time, but enough to get me thinking.
There has been a lot of talk over the years about multitasking. Our perception is that the more things you can do at one time, the more productive you will be. Well guess what? Research is now showing that multitasking isn’t everything it has been cracked up to be.
At first I thought it was just the quality of the tasks accomplished while multi-tasking that was affected, but was amazed to find out that productivity can be reduced by as much as 40 percent when switching between tasks. As I started to pay more attention to my own results, it was true… I was actually achieving less, and what I was achieving was often of poorer quality, many times needing to be re-done.
While your computer may have a dual-core processor, allowing it to do two things at one time quickly, efficiently, and accurately, presenting multiple tasks at the same time to a human can lead to brain problems, such as stress and rage. In children, it can lead to learning problems and behavioral issues, even attention deficit-like behavior.
Studies conducted at University of California demonstrate that when people shift from one task to another, their work is faster, but they produce less. After just 20 minutes, people report higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.
I once heard someone say, “Wherever you are, be there.” It makes sense to put all of your attention on the task at hand, or into the person you are with at that moment. Instead of checking emails while at lunch with your friend, thinking about work while you’re reading a bedtime story to your child, or texting while driving (a major risk), focus on your primary task at hand.
There is an old proverb that captures this thinking. It says, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”
Putting all of your attention into a work-related task will allow you to do a better job, get it done faster, and accomplish more each day. And by turning your phone off, making solid eye contact, and really listening, you will walk away from the time spent with friends, family, co-workers, and even the cashier at the grocery store, with a greater sense of connection and relationship.
You may feel like you get more done when doing multiple things at once, but you’re not. And what you are getting done is diluted. Don’t let your work, conversations, events, and interactions get watered down. Focus less on quantity and more on quality.