We all do it. While driving down the street, we answer our cell phones, talk to the children in the back seat and change the station on the radio. Perhaps we don’t think much about doing all these tasks concurrently, but we clearly believe that we are adept at multitasking, believing this to be an effective use of time and energy.
Some of us actually feel a real sense of accomplishment when multitasking, believing it is an impressive feat to be able to perform various tasks all at the same time. But, are we really more proficient when we multitask, or are we just fooling ourselves into believing we are superhuman?
Current research conducted by Michigan psychologist David Meyer may surprise you. His research suggests that those who multitask don’t really accomplish more. On the contrary, it indicates that multitasking slows down our ability to perform activities. His study notes:
- When we shuffle tasks from something very common and ordinary to something very complex and back again, we add 40 percent more time to each task. Here’s an example: It is easy to count from one to ten, but try adding one letter of the alphabet to each number in the sequence. It becomes 1A, 2B, 3C, 4D, 5E… Do you notice how much more time it takes you to work through varying the two tasks and combining them into one action? You can quickly see that adding the complex task to the common one slows down efficiency and productivity.
- Meyers reports that it takes time for the brain to shift gears and move from one task to another. You may believe you are efficient, but statistics indicate that our performance suffers.
- Multitasking actually increases our chance for mistakes. Shuffling from one task to another diverts our focus and concentration, and we tend to make errors we would not normally make.
- Multitasking can slow down our response time due to the distractions which complicate our brains’ actions. You can easily see how people tend to have more traffic accidents when they are performing numerous tasks while driving. As we all know, one moment of distraction can create a deadly accident.
But with so much to do in our harried lives, how can we get everything done if we don’t multitask? Perhaps, the answer to the question is complex in general. First of all, do we really have to accomplish so many things in our daily lives or are we making them impossible to balance? Are we making things better, or are we just creating lives that are out of control?
Research indicates we are doing the latter—we are spinning out of control and lowering our performance and enjoyment. The more we put on our plates, the less we seem to enjoy. The pressure increases our level of anxiety, and we tend to feel internal pressures, creating depression or guilt. Some people tend to become angrier because they have no natural means of relaxing from tension- filled schedules and expectations. Our bodies were clearly not meant to be running in different directions, resulting in physical and mental consequences.
Some of you will say that you just can’t slow down. If you decide that you want to continue multitasking, here are some simple suggestions which can help you concentrate and raise your performance and accuracy:
- Concentrate on doing one task at a time. During your concentrated time, don’t allow yourself to answer text messages, telephone calls, emails or other distractions. Set limits and keep them!
- Allow yourself 40 to 45 minutes to work on complex tasks that involve concentrated effort. After the time limit, give yourself a well-deserved break to renew your energy before returning to the task without distraction.
- Statistics show that it usually takes 15 to 40 minutes to return to a task once we have been interrupted. Limit your chances for distractions and you will enhance effectiveness. Limit your distractions by closing office doors, putting a “do not disturb” sign on your telephone, using earphones or listening to “white noise” or soothing music while accomplishing complex tasks.
- Take breaks during the day which include deep breathing, and try to allow yourself to be “mindless.” Research indicates efficiency is heightened by just taking a quick, 20-minute power nap. This practice will re-energize your mental acuity.
- Schedule difficult tasks in your most productive time of the day. Learn your cycles of productivity, and save routine tasks for times when you might get more interruptions or when you are less productive.
- Empty your mind before you fill it. Know when you are overwhelmed and overworked. Make time for relaxation and give yourself time to replenish before adding extra tasks.
Most importantly, remember that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Slow down and try to “be” with whatever you are doing “in the moment.” You will notice a great reward in that simple practice. TPW