It has become a disease for many – the practise of multi-tasking! With the onset of the digital era, our lives are plagued with ring-tones, “pings”, interruptions, LED’s, the need for texting whilst we are talking on the phone (or driving) or typing whilst talking to a colleague or employee – all these activities or “other tasks” interrupt the brain’s normal processing and impede excellence. In fact, there are many suggestions from studies that this bad habit of multi-tasking really does slow you down mentally. According to a study by Dr Glenn Wilson of the University of London, that’s exactly what happens when we multi-task. Constantly writing e-mails and texting reduces your mental capacity significantly – women’s IQ scores dropped by an average of 5% and for men, multi-taking, as a practise, was disastrous: their IQ dropped 15 points on average.
Harold Pashler, a scientist from the University of California, San Diego, studies “duel-task interference”. His studies verify the above results and show that when people do two mental tasks simultaneously, their intellectual capacity can drop from a Harvard MBA to an eight year old. That’s fairly significant. According to the American Psychological Association, it takes you 20 to 40 percent more time to get your work done when you are multi-tasking. When you are learning new information, it’s much closer to the 40 percent level.
Perhaps we have erroneously come to the belief that multi-tasking enables us to accelerate getting things done when, in fact, the opposite is true. There are a few things that can be done to reduce the temptation to multi-task:
- Keep yourself in check – many people jump from one task to another, even though they may know better. Technology that keeps yourself in check is available – there is a Word function called Focus (under View) that lets you only see one document. The rest of the screen is unavailable. There is an application called “Anti-Social” that blocks you from going to other frequently visited sites on the web or keeps you off-line altogether for designated periods of time.
- Schedule time slots for e-mail answering – choose three or four times a day (unless you are in e-commerce) when you make time to review communication and respond to it. E-mail has a magnetic pull and there seems to be a strong urge to discover that which is new. Resist that urge and schedule e-mail processing.
- Totally disconnect at times – there should be scheduled times for planning, research and other more strategic activities. Turn off your devices entirely to prevent them from interrupting you. An hour spent strategically will enable more focused productivity and optimise success rates.
- Set rules for meetings – a group of people can agree to “switch off” devices during meetings to make the most of the time together. Results come from focus and application, not distraction.
- Arrive fifteen minutes earlier to plan your day – understanding and enforcing priorities enables you to say “no” to anything that might stand in the way of you achieving success.
Perhaps we need to become proud promoters of mono-tasking? It’s certainly a sign of wisdom and intelligence. Mono-tasking assists with focusing your mind and providing you with a greater chance of achieving success. Dr Seuss (of “Cat in the Hat” fame) said: “Today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way”.