Jack of All Tasks = Master of None

March 29, 2012

Think you’ve mastered multi-tasking?  Don’t delude yourself. You may think that you’re accomplishing many tasks simultaneously; however your mind is playing tricks on you.

Multi-tasking slows you down.   When you switch gears from a primary task to doing something else, like checking email, you are actually increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25%.  So, if you normally work an eight hour day, you just may be working two extra hours by multi-tasking.  Another study reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology show that our productivity goes down by as much as 40%.

This is particularly true when we try to perform similar tasks at the same time (for example my typing this post while I try to listen to the person on my phone talk) because both activities compete to use the same part of the brain. Just as your computer tends to slow down if you have too many windows open, your brain simply slows down when trying to multi-task.  Mere thoughts about multi-tasking can cause this log-jam, as Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at the University of London, reported a few years ago.

Box of rocks, anyone?   Moreover, a study for computing firm Hewlett Packard carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry found excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence.  Researchers found that people distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ – the same impact as losing an entire night of sleep.  

Stress case?   We are swimming in a sea of technological gadgets that are supposed to make our lives easier.  The endless pings of instant messages and texts at all hours of the day are enough to drive a person to an insane asylum.  Scientists call this phenomenon “cognitive overload,” and say it encompasses this modern-day angst of stress, multitasking, distraction and other never ending data flurries.

Patience is a virtue.  …an elusive one these days.  The art of doing more than one thing at once has become the rule rather than the exception.  Although research has shown that multi-tasking is foolish, counterproductive and unhealthy in the long run, it is still expected and encouraged.

Still convinced that you’re a master of mutli-tasking, perhaps because it is your modus operandi?   Dale Carnegie himself once said, “Practice makes permanent.”   In this case, however, you would both be wrong.  Research shows that heavy media multi-taskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli, so they are even less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers. In this case, practice can actually work against you.

So I challenge you to stop and fully engage in one activity at a time so as not to split your attention.  Just try it out on a few important tasks, especially those requiring strategic thinking and focus.   If you turn everything else OFF other than that on which you are currently working, you will ultimately turn yourself on.

This post is brought to you by the good folks at Dale Carnegie Training of Alabama, providers of professional development and management development courses and information in Huntsville, Alabama. We would love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter @DaleCarnegieALA

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