The Art of Multitasking: Friend or Foe?

The Art of Multitasking: Friend or Foe?

Do you embrace the art of multitasking? Have you found yourself bragging about being a multitasker? Many years ago companies found that skill proudly listed on my resume. As work environments are increasingly demanding it only seems to make sense that if we want to be efficient and productive, we should attempt to excel at multitasking. Well the truth is… multitasking is one big lie!

You may not believe me, but let me share with you a recent story – with full disclosure because I know better! Last month my husband Joe called from Alaska where he was working temporarily. He told me he was getting some time off soon which could coincide with our son Erik’s spring break. Joe asked me to book a flight for us to visit him in Alaska so of course I was all over it! Minutes later, I had six tabs open comparing flights. I was on a mission!

Before deciding on which flight to book, my dad called and I answered (first mistake). He let me know he wanted to come out for Erik’s birthday and asked if I could find him a flight. I told him yes, hung up after the proper formalities, then I proceeded to pull his flight options up on my screen (second mistake). I called my dad back and said something like, “I found a great flight for only $174 round-trip. Should I book it? There are only a few seats left and the deal may never be seen again.” He gave me permission to go for it so I booked his flight. After hanging up with him for the second time, I went back to booking Erik’s and my flight to Alaska.

Later in the day I was processing my emails and came across the email with my dad’s flight confirmation. Luckily I read it because I had my dad flying from Las Vegas to Georgia round-trip. Wrong way! I know it could have been much worse. I could have had my Dad flying to Alaska but what was the cost of my mistake?! Hours. Hours of precious time calling who I booked the flight with, waiting on hold for forever to find out that the representative I finally got to speak with couldn’t help me, being transferred, waiting on hold again, being told I had to contact the airline directly, and so on… all because I slipped into thinking I could multitask. A similar scenario has probably happened to you in the past. I encourage you to not let it happen again. Time is our most valuable asset and attempting to multitask results in wasting it.

The Art of Multitasking: Friend or Foe?

Time is our most valuable asset and attempting to multitask results in wasting it. Click To Tweet

We are not capable of doing two activities at once and doing them both well. When you think you are multitasking you are actually just alternating back and forth between tasks rapidly, neither of which are receiving your full attention. Each time you alternate between tasks you are losing time and focus. When you buy into the lie of multitasking you are condemning yourself to feeling overwhelmed, inaccuracies in your work, and poor communication with others. Being efficient requires you to focus on one activity at a time so all of your effort and brainpower can be focused on accomplishing that activity.

There are two different kinds of temptations to “multitask” that prevent you from working efficiently: Internal and External.

Internal “Multitasking”

Internal “Multitasking” occurs when you proactively attempt to do more than one activity at a time, e.g., answering the phone while reading an email. You won’t retain the information in the email if you continue reading, nor will you be giving the caller your full attention during the conversation.

External “Multitasking”

External “Multitasking” occurs when someone interrupts you to demand your attention for a different activity than the one at hand, e.g., a colleague asks for your opinion on her proposal while you’re busy finalizing a report. While you’re passively listening to your colleague’s presentation, you will likely make errors on the report.

Again, both of these examples are not actually “multitasking.” Multitasking a true misnomer! You cannot accomplish multiple tasks at once that require even a smidgeon of your attention. They are simply examples of alternating focus from one task to another. There is nothing efficient about these scenarios because it can take 23 minutes for someone to return to an original task after an interruption according to a research study performed by Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, who studies digital distraction. When you have to switch gears back to a previous task after losing focus on it, it takes valuable time to return to the level of concentration you were at previously, thus decreasing your productivity.

Multitasking is a lie. You cannot accomplish multiple tasks at once that require even a smidgen of your attention.Click To Tweet

Don’t buy into the lie of “multitasking.” Mindlessly tap your toe or chew gum all you want while working diligently but if multiple tasks ever require your attention, even just a little bit of it, do yourself this favor: complete one then move on to the next. Otherwise, you might wind up standing in line at an airline counter for a trip you haven’t booked!

Best Practices

  • Identify when you are “multitasking” and stop attempting to
  • Establish priorities so you know which tasks to focus on first
  • Dedicate blocks of focused time to projects and priority tasks to ensure you accomplish them
  • Eliminate distractions that encourage you to alternate between tasks
  • Read the book The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw

Take Action Challenge:

Commit to accomplishing tasks one at a time instead of attempting to multitask which prevents efficiency.

“Don’t let your learning lead to knowledge. Let your learning lead to action.”

~ Jim Rohn

Amber De La Garza, is the Productivity Specialist! Amber is a sought-after coach, trainer, speaker, writer, and the host of the Productivity Straight Talk podcast . She helps entrepreneurs just like you take consistent, massive, focused action in your business and equips you with the specific techniques you need to reduce your stress, increase your profits, make more time for what matters most, and achieve your vision of success.

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