I’ve been hearing a lot again recently about how multi-tasking is causing the loss or reduction of focus and is making us more unproductive in the long run. There’s a plethora of studies that have been done about it. But along with the productivity drop, our human connections are decreasing. Bear in mind that “Millennials”, those ages 17 to 28, are spending on average 6½ to 9 hours each day with electronic media – and employers are taking advantage of this situation.
Now researchers say that by factoring in multi-tasking and that number increases to 8½ total hours daily. In most households, when Mom or Dad comes in from work and says “Hello”, only 1 in 3 kids turns away from their computer or video game to return the greeting.
It’s a well-known psychological fact that down-time or even single tasking (often referred to as doing nothing!) recharges your mind and your body. Yet the sad thing is that while true multi-tasking seems a real gift, and most people feel that yields higher productivity, it can endanger your physical and emotional health.
Researchers at UCLA found that at the very least multi-tasking negatively impacts your brain’s learning center and another team at MIT found that students, while handling several tasks at one, had more brain “downtime” rather than being more stimulated by the multiple tasks. And reduced brain activity reduces creativity which can be associated with things like “writers block”, with which I’m familiar.
Now, all multi-tasking isn’t bad – in fact, it’s a great way to do get your exercise and watch the news. Or prepare dinner and listen to music. But if you need to be highly focused, say driving a car in heavy traffic, I wouldn’t advise blasting out Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” while talking on your cell phone and reading the paper! The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s research regarding drivers and distractions (www.iihs.org) makes note that distracted drivers cause more accidents than those who remain focused on their driving.
Now you’re about to tell me that it’s not possible for you manage your day without the craziness of multi-tasking – and to some degree you are correct. We’ve created our careers on the very foundation of multi-tasking and all that technology offers to assist us. Well, I’m just saying that if you feel it’s gotten out of hand, it’s likely WAY out of hand. Is there a cure? Not likely, but there are some things you can do to improve.
• In the words of a character from the TV show “Mash” Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester – “I do one thing, do it very well and then move on.” But pick the most important thing that needs finishing and refuse to let yourself get off track. Of course, like in the TV show anything involving bleeding or pain should get top priority.
• Take time to read, do crossword puzzles, Sudoku, etc. which require you to focus narrowly on the task at hand.
• Go to a gym, practice yoga, go for a walk, take five minutes to do nothing but deep breathing.
• Get off the Web and shut down your email program – just for a little while.
• When you have tasks that must be completed, like placing orders, making return calls, writing emails, etc., plan for them and set aside scheduled times for starting and finishing these.
• Quit being an addict to an adrenaline-based lifestyle (even though your boss may not like it).
So as I’m finishing this article, I have two more open and waiting to continue with writing, and I keep hearing these little dings as new email arrives. Oh and by the way, I had to stop and answer the telephone multiple times, but I finally finished it. I’m pretty sure I could’ve done it in about half the time without all the multi-tasking.
Brian Howe is a professionally-trained business and life coach, writer and speaker, who owns ThinkTank Coaching. He is also a Certified Mediator, and holds the highest human resource certification, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). He has worked with over 300 business owners and professionals, coaching and consulting with them on leadership development and other aspects related to people in business. He can be reached at (770) 922-6007 or via his website www.coachbrian.com.