Can You Really Multi-Task?

Posted By on June 9, 2009

Know the saying that someone can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? It’s actually true. Research shows that productivity decreases 20% to 40% every time you “task switch,” i.e. multi-task.  Each time you struggle to do several things at once, it’s no wonder you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels.

Ironically, most job postings ask for someone who can multi-task, and all of us have sat in job interviews and declare, “Oh, yes, I can multi-task. I can multi-task like no one’s business.” In reality, too much multi-tasking makes us less efficient. Think of those drivers who can’t drive and talk on their cell phones at the same time.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and spend 20 to 30 minutes focusing on one task. You can set a kitchen timer or make a playlist on your MP3 player. Spending time focusing on one task makes a huge difference in your productivity and stress level.

Another tactic is to check e-mail only at certain times of the day. You don’t have to check it constantly throughout the day, and it’s always best to turn off the e-mail alert announcing new e-mail. The alert only serves as a distracting interruption, and interruptions cost us too much time. In fact, research shows that we get interrupted every 11 minutes — many times we’re interrupting ourselves by bouncing from one idea to another, and it takes 25 minutes to get back on track. The study also says 40 percent of the time we don’t even get back to what we’ve been doing. Researchers speculate that all of these interruptions that we and others cause us may lead to short term memory loss. See — it may not be as related to age as we think!

I know work is even more stressful these days with our challenging economic times, but it’s better to work smarter, than harder. There is no rule that says you must check your e-mail inbox every minute of the day, answer the phone everytime it rings, or answer each knock on the door. Guess what? Your computer won’t implode, the world won’t stop spinning, and no one is going to hate you for having boundaries. Then you can master walking and chewing gum!



One Response to “Can You Really Multi-Task?”

  1. Pearl says:

    Amen, Clutter Princess. Multitasking ensures that no project gets the full attention it deserves. What client wants that?

    The finance queen, Suze Orman, has this to say:

    “The people who multitask, I think, do everything to mediocrity at best. While they are getting a lot done, they are getting it done in such an inefficient way that they usually have to do it again.”,9171,1147162,00.html