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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Why Multitasking Is A Myth

Leaders Must Understand Multitasking Pulls Down Performance

No person in the world can do two things equally well at the same time. It’s not possible, as a matter of fact, both tasks will probably suffer. Multitasking is a term we have adopted to make us feel good about excusing less than superior performance. If you challenge someone on this, they will more than likely get really defensive with you and proudly declare they do not have time not to multitask. It is is an essential part of their job.

The term multitasking first made it’s appearance in the computer engineering industry in the mid-1960’s when it was used too refer to the ability of a microprocessor to apparently process several tasks at once. Actually, the reality is that because of the speed involved, even though it looks like the computer is doing several things at once, it is actually doing one thing at a time rapidly.

Multitasking with people occurs when we try to give more than one thing our attention at the same time. Have you ever followed someone who was driving an automobile and texting? The vehicle most often is weaving back and forth, crossing the lines and posing a serious threat to those around them. This will also occur when someone is talking on their cellular phone while driving. They are focusing on operating a several thousand pound piece of machinery and having a conversation simultaneously. Neither is getting the full attention it deserves. This is the effect of multitasking when a split focus occurs and the effectiveness of each individual task decreases as you add tasks and split the focus. Can you imagine the effectiveness of trying to do 3 things or 5 things at the same time?

Multitasking is not occurring when you have more than one thing in motion, but the other things do not require your attention. Let me explain. If you are finalizing a report and making coffee, you are not multitasking. You put the water in along with the coffee grounds, flipped the switch and left to do something else. The coffee pot does not require, not is it getting any part of your attention. Therefore, this does not qualify as multitasking.

Leaders do people a serious disservice when they set up the expectations of people to do more than one thing at a time.

Peak performance comes from focus. Focus comes from elimination. Performance decreases as you add things on, it increases as you remove things. Researchers have proven people get a shot of endorphins to the chemical system when they mark things off their list. A sense of accomplishment feels good to the system. Can you imagine the stress on a person’s system as things just keep getting added on? Surely, you have experienced this with a computer. What happens when you have way too many things open on your desktop at the same time? The system drags down to a slow, sluggish pace.

Tactical Action Steps To Increase Your Focus And Reduce Your Desire To Multitask:

1. Daily goals. Decide in advance what your 3 to 5 biggest objectives of the day are going to be.

2. Peak Time. Everyone has times during the day where they feel their best and are most effective. Plan your most difficult projects during this time.

3. No Communication Zones. If possible, establish times of the day you will not take phone calls or answer email. Focus in on your project.

4. Mini-Milestones. Establish small targets you must get to before you stop working or take a break. Most experts agree 90 minutes straight through before a break is optimal.

5. Batch. Put smaller tasks such as phone calls, e-mails and errands together in one single session.

6. Early Bird. If possible, get up as early as possible and go straight to work on your most difficult or important task. Most of my clients who do this get more done before 8am than other people get done all day. If you have a frog to eat, why look at him all day?

7. Pick Up Tempo. You must stay focused on the task at hand when you do this but walk faster, talk faster, type faster, read faster then go home sooner with more accomplished.

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