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Multitasking has now been pitched for nearly two decades as a way to remain productive in a world that requires more and more of you. The mindset of multitasking is that if you can handle two or more tasks at the same time, then by golly, it must be more productive, and certainly time-saving. However, is either assertion true?

Multitasking is analogous to multi-switching. In 2012, research published in Psychology Today showed that “Multi-tasking is a myth. You are really task-switching, and it’s costing you time.” Moreover, “If you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.”

Test Drive It

Consider the situation where you’re in a retail showroom that features widescreen television sets. While you’re looking at one screen, another screen to the right is displaying a different program. As you look to the right to take in that screen and then look back to the left to take in the first screen, did you miss anything?

You can continue switching back and forth between screens, but if any action occurs on either screen, you are at a bit of a deficit since you have to switch back and forth, as opposed to giving one screen your constant attention.

So it is with multitasking. Even on relatively simple tasks, when switching back and forth between them, you never quite achieve the momentum and level of productivity of which you are capable if you remain on one task at a time and take it to completion.

While in a few instances multitasking is relatively okay as an operating procedure, these generally are on familiar and non-complex tasks. Otherwise, when you multitask, you’re not doing your best work on any of the tasks involved.

The Big Why?

So, why do people multitask at all? For one, multitasking provides the illusion of greater productivity than if you’re focusing on one task at a time. After all, aren’t you balancing two items at virtually the same time? Actually, you’re not. 

During the time that you switch between tasks, even at a fraction of a second, your brain has more work to do than if you stayed focused on the one task that you chose to tackle first. From a cosmic accounting standpoint, you’re not saving time and not elevating your productivity – indeed, you’re diminishing it.

Why else do people multitask? Some feel as if they have no choice.

“So much is demanded of me, unless I double up or triple up on tasks I’m not going to make it.”

This feeling is erroneous. It also undermines your ability to do your best work. Perhaps worst of all, the perceived need to multi-task sends the wrong message to your subconscious. 

When you multitask, and it feels that you have no other option, you’re essentially saying to yourself, “I can’t make it any other way,” “I need to do this to keep up,” “I’m afraid I’ll otherwise fall behind,” and other unhelpful messages.

Your Mission is Clear

Your mission is to begin focusing on one thing at a time. It is best to focus on one task or one action item at a time. As such, you’ll soon realize that handling one thing at a time is the fastest and most productive path personally and professionally. You might need a few days or even a week to develop the habit, because the pull of multitasking and its false promises is quite strong, especially if you’ve been at it for years.

Persevere nonetheless. Focusing on one thing at a time, soon enough, will prove to be its own reward. Your level of concentration will rise. Your productivity will rise, as will your peace of mind. When you develop the habit of doing one thing at a time, you’ll begin to experience an inner satisfaction that you had not presumed would emerge.

About the author

Jeff Davidson is “The Work-Life Balance Expert®” as designated by the USPTO and a premier thought leader on work-life balance, harmony, and integration issues. Jeff speaks to organizations worldwide that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the work-life balance of their people. He wrote Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Perfect Timing, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com or call 919-932-1996 for more information

Simone Santarelli

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