Increase Your Productivity, Enhance Your Relationships, and Decrease Your Stress: Quit Multi-Tasking
By Sabrina Schleicher, Ph.D.
Many of us feel plagued by “busy-ness” in our day to day lives, running from one activity and project to the other. Often we feel short on time. It is tempting to buy into the notion that if we multi-task, we can be more efficient and get more accomplished. With technology, such as blackberries, cell phones, and laptop computers, there are temptations all around us to do “electronic multi-tasking.” Maybe you respond to emails while you are on the phone. Or, perhaps you make out your "To Do" list while you are in meetings. It is easy to believe that multi-tasking increases your productivity. This is a myth! Multi-tasking actually is detrimental to your productivity. It interferes with your ability to communicate effectively with others and it increases your stress level.
You may believe multi-tasking allows you to get a lot done in a shorter period of time. This is not the case. Multi-tasking actually detracts from your ability to focus on the task in front of you. When you attempt to do two or more tasks at one time, you are more prone to oversights and mistakes, which of course, take additional time to correct. Studies also have demonstrated that switching focus from one task to the next and back again costs valuable time as we have to take time to re-orient ourselves to the task at hand.
Recent studies completed by Dr. Glenn Wilson at the University of London demonstrate how electronic multi-tasking detracts from our intellectual capacity. Distractions from responding to incoming emails, text messages, and phone calls were found to cause a temporary 10-point drop in IQ. A 10-point drop in IQ is enough to lower someone of high average intelligence into the average range of intellectual functioning. It also is the equivalent to the “brain fog” you would experience if you were to miss an entire night of sleep. A 10-point drop in IQ is more than double the drop in IQ experienced from smoking marijuana. This is a huge drop in intellectual capacity. Electronic multi-tasking interferes with your concentration, not to mention your ability to solve problems and think creatively. Why would you want to do that to yourself?
Most of us have had the experience of talking with someone who interrupts the conversation to take a call on their cell phone. What does this say to you about that person’s interest in the conversation you two were having? When we interrupt meetings or conversations to take calls from others, we are sending a clear nonverbal message—what the person in front of you is saying is not as important as the person on the call. Not only is this disrespectful to the individuals with whom you are talking, it also disrupts the flow of conversation. You may be short-circuiting the expression of important information or ideas. Similarly, responding to text messages during meetings or doing work on your laptop increases the likelihood you will miss important information, or miss an opportunity to contribute valuable input. It says to your supervisors and colleagues that you do not value what they have to say.
Multi-tasking with technology also increases your stress level. The sense of being available at anytime to your customers and colleagues detracts from your ability to relax and enjoy downtime, not to mention that you are taking away quality of attention from your family members and friends. We all need downtime without interruption from work.
Breaking the habit of electronic multi-tasking may be difficult. However, over time, you will reap the rewards of increased productivity, improved business and personal relationships, and an overall increase in your well-being.
Here are some short-term solutions to reduce electronic multi-tasking:
*Set aside a certain period of time each day to respond to e-mail and return phone calls. Make sure the time you are setting aside is not a time when you are at your peak with respect to creativity and problem-solving.
*Turn off the email alert on your computer so you are not tempted to open email each time a new message appears.
*Use the do-not-disturb feature on your phone when you are working on an important project. If you are concerned you will miss an important business call, plan to check your messages at 45-intervals. Most things can wait that long.
*Do not take phone calls or respond to text messages when meeting with others. Send a nonverbal message to the person with whom you are talking that at that very moment they have your full attention—your full attention is a precious gift to another human being and it always is appreciated!
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