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The Truth About Multitasking

I can’t multitask!  And I’ll let you in on a little secret – I don’t believe humans (in general) are capable of multitasking.  I think when we attempt to complete several different tasks at once, those tasks are either not completed well or not completed at all.  As a former teacher, I would encourage my students to complete the task at hand before moving on to the next task.  I never saw it as productive to shift focus back and forth among multiple tasks.  And, as it turns out from the research I’m about to share with you, I may have been correct all along…

I have recently read several studies indicating multitasking actually hinders productivity! A Harvard Business Review post says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ (Bergman, 2010).  Yesterday my son, John, sent me an article about a British study showing that people distracted by phone calls, e-mails and text messages had a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking pot! (http://articles.cnn.com/2005-04-22/world/text.iq_1_mails-iq-messages?_s=PM:WORLD)

So, given that we all have multiple tasks that need to be accomplished in a day, how can we avoid the temptation of multitasking and yet still accomplish everything we need to accomplish?  Consider a few of the following habits as suggested by Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life (2008, p 38).

  1. Set your 3 MITs (Most Important Tasks) each morning.
  2. When you work on a task, don’t switch to other tasks.
  3. Check e-mail just twice a day.
  4. Exercise 5-10 minutes a day.
  5. Work while disconnected, with no distractions.
  6. Keep your desk decluttered.
  7. Stick to a 5-sentence limit for e-mails.

Well, now that my blog is written, it’s time to check my e-mail and declutter my desk…one task at a time, of course.