Multi-tasking – It’s Not the Answer

There is strong evidence emerging that multitasking is not all it’s cracked up to be. Surprised? Well in fact Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Massachusetts-based psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, describes it as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.” Hallowell titled his book, rather aptly, “Crazy Busy”.

He claims “Attention Deficit Trait” is rampant in the business world as a result of our attempting to use our brain in a way that evolution has not developed it to act. In simple terms, we have evolved to be single-focused in our tasking, and any attempt to multi-focus appears to strike a “response selection bottleneck”.

So What’s the Cost?

The cost of that bottleneck can be frightening: In a 2007 New York Times article Jonathan B. Spira, an analyst at the business research firm Basex, estimated that extreme multitasking (or “information overload”) costs the US economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity.

The sometimes-fatal consequences of attempting to multitask mobile phones with driving have been clearly recognized – and legislated against – but that has not stopped us breeding a generation who exhibit technical and intellectual ability coupled with extreme impatience, dissatisfaction with slowness, and discomfort with silence: “I get bored if it’s not all going at once, because everything has gaps – waiting for a website to come up, commercials on TV, etc.”

Even those who believe we will “evolve out of this” and eventually master our input-overloaded environment, have found that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline which, if not controlled, can cause long-term health problems and contribute to a loss of short-term memory. The reason that memory suffers, appears to lie in the fact that, when multitasking, learning is less flexible and more specialized and so information retrieval is more difficult.

Less, Not More Efficient

For those readers over the age of 16, the last word probably goes to Russell Poldrack, a psychology professor at the University of California who said, “We’re really built to focus. And when we sort of force ourselves to multitask, we’re driving ourselves to perhaps be less efficient in the long run, even though it sometimes feels like we’re being more efficient.”

For those who are hiring 16 year olds, however, the future may be a bit brighter: They may be adapting through “acquired inattention” – the habit of ignoring much of what is going on around them to – guess what – focus on the task at hand!

That’s not multi-tasking. That’s single-tasking in a multi-distracting universe.

Call to Action

So, is it time to look at your own work habits and those you influence around you, and see if there is anything that you can do to minimize the temptation or demand to multi-task? Could you trial a “Single Tasking Day” one day a week and measure the effect on everyone?

On output?

On stress levels?

For a real solution to multi-tasking, that will let you get twice as much done, on time, in time, and with half the stress, why not ask me to assist you with a real solution to your Time Management challenge?

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Begin here to accelerate your success: http://www.ignition-pathway2growth.com/

© Rich Kohler 2015. All rights reserved. For copies, please contact Rich at rich@rich-kohler.com.

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