By Dr. Laura Hills, President, Blue Pencil Institute
If you’re reading this while participating in a webinar, eating a sandwich, and periodically checking your email, please stop! Multitasking will ultimately reduce your productivity, strain your focus, and produce poorer results, for two reasons:
- No one can actually perform several cognitive tasks simultaneously. Rather, multitaskers quickly switch from one task to the other. Therefore, all things being equal, multitasking should be no faster than single tasking.
- Bearing this point in mind, it would seem that a person would require a certain amount of time to switch from one task to the other. Even if that time is tiny, it will ultimately add up after numerous switches from task to task. This would suggest that multitasking is actually slower than tackling one task at a time.
If you don’t believe this, try this exercise and see for yourself. Take out a blank piece of paper and write the word multitasking in upper case letters. Then, below the word, write the numbers 1-12, one number beneath each letter, like this:
M U L T I T A S K I N G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
You did that relatively quickly and easily, right?
Now turn the paper over. You will write the word multitasking and the numbers 1-12 again. But this time, you’ll do it by multitasking. Do not write the whole word. Rather, switch back and forth between writing the word and writing the numbers beneath it. Begin by writing the m and then beneath it, the 1. Then write the u and beneath it the number 2. Then write the L and beneath it the number 3, etc. Ready? Don’t look at your previous work or these instructions. Now, go ahead and try it.
That was considerably more difficult and took much longer, didn’t it? Switching back and forth between writing a word and writing a sequence of numbers cut your productivity and probably, created some strain. Remember this exercise the next time you’re tempted to multitask. In the long run, you’ll find that focusing on a single task will make you better and faster at it – and far less stressed.