The Perils of Multitasking

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Is multitasking the reason you feel overwhelmed? asks Dave Crenshaw

It seems like every time we open LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Facebook, we’re bombarded with new stories about how somebody, somewhere, is working on some project that will save time.

However, your biggest time-saving strategy is not in the products you buy or the services you invest in, but in how you avoid the perils of multitasking.

If you’ve ever read a job listing before, you may have noticed that often employers seek multitaskers. What employers really think they want is a switchtasker. Someone who can bob and weave between multiple tasks without skipping a beat. I often shrug at these listings because what it sounds like these employers want is someone who uses up too much time.

Consider, for a minute, an interruption. You’re working on, say, an email, when someone bursts through your door with a question. You have to think and answer the question. Then you look back to your screen, regain your composure, and continue your work. This might take one or two minutes out of your day, but how many times do you run into this each day? I call this the switching cost – the time you lose as a result of going from one activity to another.

Multitasking – or more accurately, switchtasking – consumes even more time out of your day because of the mistakes it can create. If you were asked to switch between one hundred seventh-grade level math and spelling problems one by one, there’s a good chance you’d make more mistakes switching than doing one test at a time. This switchtasking is the reason a manager might have to say, “I’ve already told you this.” Isn’t that the worst feeling in the world?

To be your best in a work environment, you want an environment that is quiet and allows you to focus. When it comes time to interact personally with your coworkers, focus on what they are saying, not on the other things that need doing. You’ll find that this limits the number of communication mistakes that happen on a regular basis and forges more meaningful relationships with the people you work with, as well.

Simple solutions

No person can avoid stressors in their life. Unfortunately, when we switchtask, we increase negative stressors by an order of magnitude.  We feel the pressure to get everything done all at once. With the snowballing effect of lost time and errors creeping up on us, we can feel like our world is beginning to fall apart. Eventually, we get burned out on something we were once passionate about.

So, seek to avoid switchtasking by reducing attention switches in your day:-

  • Rather than peppering coworkers and your boss with questions throughout the day, have a consistent, scheduled time to discuss quick questions.
  • Schedule and maintain a routine sleep schedule. Healthy sleep patterns will improve your brain’s ability to maintain focus.
  • Check email and messages at specific times of the day, rather than getting notified every time a message comes in. If you are worried about missing urgent messages, then create an “emergency channel” where someone can reach you.
  • Create a start and finish time each day of the week and stick to it. This will force you to uncover – and find solutions for – inefficiencies in your workday.
  • Make a commitment to focus on people when they are talking to you. This will improve relationships and reduce stress for all parties.

Enjoy your Work Day

Big businesses might try to convince you that buying their product or using their service will allow you to stop thinking about something like driving, flight time, or banking. However, these new approaches to completing the task often become new tasks in and of themselves.

So, choose your tools wisely. Not all convenience needs to be about work life. Use the conveniences in your life to power down. The moments between working and not working don’t need to be sudden. Give yourself the gift of transitioning out of the unpredictable world of business and back into a world of family, comfort, and relaxation.

The key is to use these tools as supplements to your productivity. They can help you be more productive but work best when they’re added to a steady foundation of a focused life.

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About Author

Dave Crenshaw

Dave Crenshaw is the master of building productive leaders. He has appeared in Time magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have received over 10 million views. He has written five books and counting, including The Myth of Multitasking which was published in six languages and is a time management bestseller. As an author, speaker, and online instructor, Dave has transformed hundreds of thousands of business leaders worldwide. Learn more at DaveCrenshaw.com

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