The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Be honest, how many things are you doing right now while reading this article?

Listening to a podcast and checking email? Talking to a friend? Or perhaps you are texting about tonight’s dinner and switching from tab to tab online?

I get it, you have a lot to do and not enough hours to do it in. And, multitasking seems like the only way to be productive and get it all done. But, some research has found that multitasking can decrease productivity by as much as 40%.

Instead of speeding you up, it’s slowing you down. Why? Because your brain can’t actually multitask. It can’t do multiple things at once. Instead, your brain is doing something called “context switching.” This is when your brain switches from task to task. You are switching from email to reading, to talking, to texting, and so on.

The problem is when you context switch between tasks you are actually doing two things that are working against you:

#1 leaving a percent of your attention behind, on the previous task. Every new task gets less and less of your attention. That’s why you feel exhausted and the tasks seem to get harder and harder.

#2 slowing down your brain. It takes your brain time to close out one task and begin another. But, when we don’t allow for that time by trying to multi-task (context switching) we slow down our brain functions as our brain can’t focus on one specific task. #3 make more mistakes. When your brain is divided and unfocused it makes more mistakes. Basically, whatever you do while multitasking, you’ll probably have to do it again. Think of it like watching a hyper-stimulating movie that moves from scene to scene too quickly and with no transitions. As the viewer you are left feeling confused, still thinking about the last scene, unsure where to focus. That’s your brain on multi-tasking. To make matters worse, a study by Stanford University shows that living in a state of multitasking actually adds stress, and negatively affects your mood. No wonder you are walking around grumpy all day!

If you want to dial up productivity and innovation and minimize stress, it’s time to leave the multitasking behind. Instead get present, focused, and singular in your actions. Here are three tips to help you achieve this.

#1 Plan your to-time list. Plan your day not just by task, but also by time. You will take 60-minutes for this task, 30-minutes for the next, and so on. This will help your brain focus on the task at hand. It also calms down the worry about what you haven’t done yet because your brain knows it’s on the schedule.

#2 Remove distractions: pings, dings, beeps, lights. Whatever it is that interrupts your flow, get rid of it. Not all of your distractions are external, but they do add up and pull you away from the important work.

#3 One-tab habit: This was the hardest for me. Only have open on your computer what you are actually working on at that moment. Close everything else down. Not seeing the other tasks sitting in the background waiting for you will help you stay present and not get sucked down the multitasking trap.

This article is an excerpt from the September Everyday Innovators Online Toolkit; delivering innovator mindset, tools and support to your inbox monthly in a sleek interactive format.

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Tamara Ghandour is the pioneering voice in the field of human-centered innovation, the creator of the IQE assessment, podcast host, and Crossfit addict

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Tamara Ghandour

Tamara Ghandour

Tamara Ghandour is the pioneering voice in the field of human-centered innovation, the creator of the IQE assessment, podcast host, and Crossfit addict

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