Publilius Syrus, a philosopher in the Roman times, pithily stated: “To do two things at once, is to do neither.” In today’s fast-paced and digital-centric world, we’re often put in the position to deliver multiple things at once. I know I am guilty of this – what’s the harm in responding to emails during a meeting, it only takes a minute.
Most people I ask consider themselves as excellent multi-taskers. I know I have – even showcasing it as a strength of mine when asked in interviews. By presenting myself as a multi-tasker, I was projecting that I was more efficient with my time with tasks on a given day. With countless items on our to-do-lists we are always looking for ways to do two things or more at the same time and the main problem with this approach is that we are focused on quantity, not the quality of our work.
In Gary W Keller’s book “The ONE Thing,” it states you can lose 28% of an average workday to multi-tasking ineffectiveness. Ineffectiveness could be from making mistakes in doing things too quickly, forgetting certain tasks because you have too many on the go, and increased stress which impacts your health.
Here’s why you need to stop multi-tasking and focus on mono-tasking (tackling one thing at one point in time):
- Multi-tasking is slowing you down. There is only so much a brain is capable of processing at any one point in time – the more you divide, the more you lose time. What you think is multi-tasking is actually just task switching, going from one to another and back again. Each time you switch you are losing time as your brain has to reorient itself to the new task.
- Multi-tasking can lead to making more mistakes as the brain cannot fully focus when multi-tasking. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that interruptions as brief as two to three seconds — which is to say, less than the amount of time it would take you to toggle from this article to your email and back again — were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task.
- Multitasking can negatively affect your memory. In a 2009 study by Clifford Nass, Ph. D at Stanford University shows that participants who multi-task the most are distracted by unimportant information that is stored in their short-term memory. By having too much information inundate you at the same time, your brain cannot differentiate between what is important and what isn’t, impacting your memory abilities.
- Multi-tasking can lead to IQ score declines. According to a study by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, researchers studied 1,100 workers at a British company and found that multi-tasking with electronic media caused a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night’s sleep.
- Multi-tasking can increase your stress. Trying to do many things at one time can increase your heart rate and impact your overall physical health (ie blood pressure).
Multi-tasking is neither efficient or effective and harmful to your body and brain. What we need to be is focused on mono-tasking. Start one task, complete it and then move on to the next task.
Reduce distractions. I mentioned this in previous blog posts, by simply turning off your phone notifications and put away your phone for 20 – 60min time blocks can help reduce these distractions and help you multi-task less. Set that block of time aside and give yourself a well-deserved break. Set times in the day for emails and social media time rather than doing them during meetings or on the go. Use app limits to avoid being distracted to check your social media newsfeeds.
Mono-tasking for me has brought more productivity, satisfaction, and results. I must admit, it’s not easy breaking this habit of multi-tasking but now that I have brought mono-tasking into my morning routine, I am able to get a meditation session, some exercise and reading done before 6:30 am and all without checking my phone.
I’d love to hear from you on your methods to reduce the myriad of tasks you have on the go. What do you do to help control the multiple demands during your day?