If you think juggling phone calls, e-mail, instant messages and computer work makes you more effective or productive then several studies say you are wrong. Their results point in the opposite direction and highlight the fact that the more heavily you multitask the less effective and productive you become. It seems the more multitasking we do the more mediocre the results are.
I have been multitasking most of the time when I’m online for years, presumably so I can get more done. But when I’m offline I prefer to focus on a single task at a time and I get more done and make fewer mistakes. When I’m not online I divide large tasks into smaller “chunks” that I work on for about 45 minutes at a time and then I take a short break. This year began cutting back on the multitasking I do while online. How about you?
LeoBabauta’s How NOT to Multi-task — a guide to working as simply as possible for your mental health peaked my interest and I did some multitasking research. A 2009 study by three Stanford University professors on cognitive control concluded that chronic media multitaskers are more susceptible to distraction.
Ophir, Nass, and Wagner’s study (PDF) is significant in many respects. Research in media multitasking is in its early stages, although in recent years, media multitasking has become an increasingly popular phenomenon because of the development and convergence of many forms of new media and technologies Media multitasking and its inherent mental habits of dividing attention, switching attention, and keeping multiple trains of thought in working memory have significant implications for the way people think, communicate, socialize, learn, and understand the world.
Peter Bregman’s How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking lays out the downside of multitasking and how to break the pattern. He reports, “I lost nothing by not multitasking.” David Silverman presents the opposing side in his In Defense of Multitasking. Silverman believes, “The truth is, we need multitasking as much as we need air.” But what caught my attention were these two points:
- research shows that multitasking isn’t just inefficient, it’s stressful
- our productivity goes down by as much as 40% when multitasking
The information age wherein people working and communicating on digital devices all day is being reflected in the stats. In The Rise of Digital Multitasking [STATS] Ben Parr of Mashable reports according to a new survey from Deloitte, More Americans than ever are multitasking while the watch TV. Multitasking has become a more prominent behavior of U.S. consumers.
Tim Ferriss Guest Lecture at Princeton Q&A
Kicking the multitasking habit
We live in a world where multitasking is commonplace. Breaking the multitasking habit will not be easy but it can be done. The alternative to multitasking is scheduling blocks of uninterrupted time to work in and then carrying through and getting the work done. Allow no distraction or interruptions — focus.
- Make a to-do list.
- Prioritize items on the to-do list.
- Map out blocks of time to create a timetable from your to-do list. The time blocks can vary in duration as required.
- Assign “chunks” of work to time blocks.
- Start working.
- Tune out all distractions.
- Turn off your phone.
- Shut down your computer.
- Focus on what you are doing.
- When you feel a need to boot your computer and check your email – don’t do it! Pacify yourself by reflecting on the truth. The email and Tweets will be still be there when you are done.