The Cost of Multi-tasking

As an independent professional and entrepreneur, you have A LOT of things that you must accomplish in a day – both professionally and personally.

You have to make phone calls, answer emails, meet with clients, create and produce marketing pieces, lead your team, pick up your dry cleaning etc… and it simply seems like you just can’t get it all done.

Most of, out necessity, multi-task in an fetal attempt to get it done.

But could multi-tasking actually be part of the reason you aren’t getting as much done as you would like?

Today’s essay takes a look at what is multi-tasking and how it impacts performance.

Multi-tasking is the simple art of doing multiple things at once.

We ALL do it. It has evolved out of necessity.

On my flight back from Brazil, I had a layover in the Dallas/Fort worth airport and I sat there and observed my fellow globe-trotters.

The guy next to me was talking on his cell phone, to which it sounded like a family member, (unless he loves his secretary) was reviewing a report of some sort, and was writing an email.

In his mind, I’m sure he was being productive.

Which, in reality, he was. He was producing results. But according to science, he probably wasn’t being efficient.

In her book “Tap into the New Science of Emergenetics”, Geil Browning sites an unpublished study at Carnegie Mellon University, where a group of researchers conducted MRIs on 18 individuals as they were asked to do a series of language and visual tasks at the same time.

The researches found that if the individual performed the tasks independently, the brain activated 37 voxels of tissue (a unit of measure for tissue activation in the brain).

But when the tasks were performed simultaneously, the brain only activated 42 voxel TOTAL.

In addition, the amount of brain activation allocated to the visual process task decreased by 29 percent when the subjects were simultaneously listening to a sentence.

This would indicate that when you ask your brain to focus on two activities at the same time, your performance on BOTH tasks suffers.

These performance deficiencies don’t only occur during complex tasks they are also present during mundane tasks.

This is why people who drive while talking on the phone are 4 times more likely to have an accident. The problem is serious enough to have laws passed forbidding it’s activity.

Hands-free calling didn’t help either. Because it still required the brain to have to “switch” back and forth from paying attention to the road to paying attention to the call.

[On a side note: as i’m writing this article my ear caught the television on in other room where a woman is telling a story where someone jumped out of the bushes and began assaulting her and a friend’s husband. Unconsciously I started tune into that story AND finish my article. I was falling victim to multi-tasking! (so if you don’t like this article blame in the Real House Wives of Beverly Hills:)]

I have written about “transition” time in a previous essay. The amount of time it tasks you to get “in the zone” going from one task to next – and how it impacts performance.

And according to Browning, when multi-tasking, the brain must undergo a two-stage process. First it has to decide to switch to the second task, called “goal switching,” and then it has to activate the “rules” of the second task. Each requiring un-productive time.

These delays add up over the course of a full day of multi-tasking.

So, how can we use this information to our advantage?

  • Create a detailed written schedule of the activities that want to accomplish that day.
  • Block time to work on each and only each activity. Ie-allocate time for emails, phone calls, staff meetings
  • Guard yourself from unscheduled interruptions

Multi-tasking is deep routed “habit” that we have acquired out of our desire to feel like we are getting more done.

But, it’s an illusion.

What seems like something that is allowing you to get more done is actually debilitating your focus and causing you to be less productive.

It’s not going to be easy to break this habit.

For the average persons, breaking any bad habit is not easy.

But, you’re not average.

So start today!

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