Do you buy into the myth of multi-tasking?

 

Do you pride yourself on your ability to multi-task?

Maybe it’s time to remember the old saying that “pride goeth before a fall.”

I found it rather fascinating that, in two different online dictionaries, “multi-tasking” is defined primarily in terms of computer processes, and only secondarily in terms of human activities. For example, Merriam-Webster.com defines the term as follows: “(1) the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer; (2) the performance of multiple tasks at one time.”

(Actually, no person truly works on multiple activities simultaneously. Instead, “multi-taskers” shift their attention from one task to another so rapidly that it appears they’re working on both at the same time.)

This is a bummer. Given that it’s generally accepted that humans normally use no more than 10% of their mental capacity, it certainly seems as if we should be able to simultaneously perform multiple activities. However, according to the American Psychological Association, “doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity. Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”

Here’s one of the reasons why: Your mental processes slow down every time you let go of one task and pick up another…and even small slow-downs can add up over time. In fact, psychologist Dr. David Meyer contends that the brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks – even if those blocks are measured in seconds or even fractions of a second – can cost as much as 40 percent of a worker’s productive time.

In other words, there’s some convincing evidence that “increasing productivity through multi-tasking” is a myth.

Having said that, I feel there’s a difference between genuinely attempting to do two things simultaneously and simply being aware of what’s going on around you. For example, even when I’m engaged in a conversation with my husband, I certainly want to have enough awareness of my surroundings to realize that the dog is retching. To me, interrupting Joseph (or even myself) to rush the dog outside is a much better option than cleaning doggie upchuck from the carpet. (I know, not a pretty visual, but it does make the point.)

Lack of focus is a major factor in business failure.

When it comes to accomplishing the mission-critical activities on your To Do list, you’re far more likely to increase your productivity by applying focused attention and concentrated effort to one single task at a time.

The way I see it, many entrepreneurs face obstacles to achieving that kind of focus:

Ring any bells?

Here’s the good news: You’re totally capable of getting out of the habit of multi-tasking. While developing any new habit takes effort and commitment, the pay-backs to focusing your attention and concentrating your efforts can be huge:

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Remember the statistic I cited earlier, that the mental pauses between shifting from one task to another can cost as much as 40 percent of a worker’s productive time?

Do you have that kind of time to waste?

If not, then you owe it to your mental – and financial – health to use your time as effectively as possible. And one of the ways you can do that is to toss multi-tasking right out the window.

But maybe that sounds more like a fairy tale than something you could actually implement in the real world. If that’s the case, I have some tools, strategies, and resources that can make clarity, focus, and concentration your default settings.

My specialty is showing my clients how to effectively do what really needs doing while ignoring the other stuff clamoring for their attention. Can I do the same for you? Probably. Would it be in both our best interests? Maybe.

The best way to find out if we’d make a fantastic productivity-boosting team is to get acquainted with each other by phone. At the end of the call, in which we’d both ask and answer some questions, you and I would be very confident we’d come to the right decision about working together – whatever that decision turns out to be.

Is that possibility worth exploring? Then just grab a spot in my calendar for a no-risk, no-charge, get-acquainted call; we’ll see what shakes out.

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3 Responses to Do you buy into the myth of multi-tasking?

  1. Pat says:

    Kathleen, the 40% cost on productive time when changing tasks is a pretty scary figure! You’re right; who has that kind of time to give away? Thanks for the eye opener and the reminder to focus on a single task.

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      Yes, my eyes kind of bugged out when I read that figure, too, Pat. Maybe I could get a nice little sign for my laptop: “40%” inside one of those international red “NO” symbols…

  2. Pingback: Lack of focus = lack of success. | Stepping Into Big

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