Multitasking is a Bitch

Posted By on January 18, 2013

We poor humans keep trying to do it, but we can never do it very well.

Our job descriptions will say we need to multitask, and in job interviews, we all sit in the chair across from a prospective boss, claiming we are the kings and queens of multitasking. “Oh, yes,” we find ourselves saying, “I can multitask like there’s no tomorrow. Watch me read ‘War and Peace’ while creating a killer PowerPoint and ordering lunch for the department.”

Tired of juggling? Step away from the balls.Meanwhile, your coworkers are wondering why there are bookmarks on their plates instead of chicken salad. Your boss is tapping her foot about a tardy slide deck, and you’re banging your head against a hefty book.

Like I said, poor humans. Studies of our cognitive abilities keep showing that we are not good at multitasking. One study said men and women both lose 10 IQ points when they try to do two things at once. Basically, we’re making ourselves stupid when we multitask. This is why they say texting and driving at the same time makes you more dangerous than a drunk driver.

We live in a mobile, high-tech world where we have access to information at our fingertips 24 hours a day. We can check email in the middle of the grocery store or while sitting on an exotic beach because we can. But does that mean we should?

People are using the term “digital vacation” more and more. I, for one, encourage my friends, family and organizing clients to take digital vacations when they’re on vacation. During the recent Christmas holidays, I took two weeks off, and, to make sure I wasn’t tempted to check work email, I turned Outlook off on my iPad.

Email is never an emergency. If it’s a real emergency, people should call or appear at your desk.

Focus on doing one thing at a time. You will be surprised by how quickly you can finish up a task or project just by focusing on what you need to do.

Protect your time. Before you open email in the morning, take 30 minutes to 90 minutes and zero in on those important tasks. Brian Tracy refers to this as “eating the frog.” My organizing colleague and friend Ellen Delap calls them “power hours,” and Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project refers to them as “sprinting.” Call it whatever you want, but try it. You’ll like it. I know I do, and I feel more productive when I do it. Then check email when your time is up. It will still be there.

What is your MIT? I know how priorities can shift from hour to hour and day to day at work. No matter how much stuff is flying at you, one thing has to be the Most Important Thing (MIT), and that’s where your focus should begin. Each day, ask yourself, “What is my MIT?”

Reduce multitasking and email. Brainstorm with your team on how you can reduce emails as a group. This may require actually talking to each other. It’s okay. They want less emails and multitasking too.

Yes, multitasking is a bitch. But you can win and keep your IQ intact.

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