The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Posted by dianne on Feb 16, 2013 in Blog | Tags:, | No comment

We have accepted the concept of multi-tasking as a cornerstone of efficiency for the last 20 years, and many of us try to do more than one thing at a time. It feels like we are being productive because we feel so busy.

I participated in an experiment designed to compare the productivity of multi-tasking compared to doing one thing at a time. As one of about 30 people, I was assigned to a group of five. We were given three tasks to do and instructed to work on one task until we heard a bell ring. We than switched to another task again for limited time, then we moved to a third task. The tester rang the bell at intervals and we continued to switch tasks every few minutes until we completed all three tasks.

For the second part of the experiment the same groups were given three tasks comparable to the first assignments to complete. This time the tester told us to work on one task until we were finished, then do the second then do the third. In all the groups doing one thing at a time beat multi-tasking hands down.

The advantage to doing one thing at a time, besides increasing productivity is that you can avoid the frantic feeling that often accompanies multi-tasking.

In order to keep on task, I find that using a timer can be a big help. I often set an online timer for 30 minutes and work on one task as quickly as I can without allowing interruptions. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a short time just but focusing all your attention.

Have you ever been on a phone call and known the other person is working, reading e-mail, or text messaging at the same time? Guess what! People know when you are doing that, too.

An architect I know works from a home office in order to better balance her work with caring for her four small children. In an effort to complete some homemaking tasks while working with her client, my friend started cleaning her bathroom during a teleconference. All went well until she finished brushing the toilet and flushed it. There was an awkward silence on the other end of the call, and she felt compelled to admit that she was cleaning while talking. Busted!

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