Last Updated on May 9, 2023 by Dave Schoenbeck
Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of trying to do everything at once. Some boast about their multitasking ability, often answering emails during meetings or drafting reports on the phone. The question is, is multitasking efficient? Or is this just a myth that we tell ourselves?
Is It Possible to Multitask?
Although many swear by their almost superhuman ability to multitask, it’s an illusion. The truth is multitasking is not efficient. A study from Stanford University shows that people who multitask using electronic information cannot pay attention or switch between tasks, and those who tend to complete one task at a time.
Multitaskers can’t stop thinking about their other tasks long enough to devote their focus to the one at hand. This is because our brains are wired to think about one thing simultaneously. So when you try to split that focus to work on multiple tasks, you cannot perform them at your total capacity.
In addition, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study from the University of London found that participants’ IQs dropped during multitasking to the extent they would if they smoked marijuana. So think about that: the next time you’re typing a work email while switching to another open tab, your mind is being addled.
How to Stop Multitasking
Multitasking is not efficient, but it’s a tough habit to break. If you’re a chronic multitasker, here are a few things you can do to improve your ability to focus.
First, eliminate distractions whenever possible. That means silencing your phone and turning off email notifications if you check your messages during other tasks. Designate specific time windows to respond to emails and be strict about maintaining those windows. Make sure that your employees know only to expect responses during those times.
Second, stay organized. A cluttered environment makes for a cluttered mind. So look hard at your physical desk, office space, and computer screen. Keep your open tabs to a minimum, and try to keep your screen clear of everything except the work that you’re doing.
Next, remember that you can say no. Tasks are rarely as urgent as they seem. So if someone has a necessary but not urgent job for you, don’t feel you must stop whatever you’re doing to work on it immediately. Instead, add it to your to-do list and resume your original task.
Finally, remember that multitasking is not efficient. Often we multitask because we are trying to accomplish as much as possible, but we’re only hurting ourselves by continuing to lose focus. If you make yourself aware of your multitasking tendencies and consciously work to reduce them, you will quickly break the habit.
Experiment with cluster tasking. The author of the book Singletasking, Devora Zack, suggests that you must first identify which tasks require similar methods to complete and then group them. Then it’s simply a matter of setting a timeframe for each cluster, deciding how to spread them throughout your schedule, and completing the tasks.
For example, you could put all tasks which involve making calls or video calling into one cluster or block. Then, you could follow this up with a block full of writing activities like emails, meeting summaries, etc. Then, finish your day with tasks that demand physical activity.
Build More Flexibility into Your Schedule. Ms. Zack writes: If you plan many meetings one after the other, you’ll fall behind schedule sooner or later. But suppose you build a buffer into your schedule. In that case, an unexpected call from your boss or a sudden, critical incident won’t disrupt your routine, making it possible for you to stay focused more efficiently.
Wean Yourself from Distractions. Dr. David Strayer from the University of Utah has studied how our brains handle tasks and suggests that we set our email to batch emails every 15 minutes. Turn off all of your notifications. Experiment with the Pomodoro technique, focusing in small bursts and then taking a short break.
Is multitasking efficient? The answer is usually no. If you’re struggling to break your multitasking habits, fill out my contact form for a complimentary video chat to discuss your approach to multitasking and productivity.