Multi-Tasking: Slow is the New Fast

Americans tend to be multi-taskers, or at least they think they are. The truth is that multi-tasking is a mirage because the brain simply lacks the ability to perform two or more tasks at the same time. The actual result of multitasking is reduced efficiency in the workplace, and worse.

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    Multi-Tasking: Slow is the New Fast

    Multi-Tasking: Slow is the New Fast

    Americans tend to be multi-taskers, or at least they think they are. The truth is that multi-tasking is a mirage because the brain simply lacks the ability to perform two or more tasks at the same time.1

    Consider a typical multi-tasking scenario…

    A worker is on a conference call with colleagues and is using the time to read and respond to emails. Who hasn’t thought that doing so during a 45-minute call is an efficient and productive use of their time? The reality is that this worker is operating sub-optimally at both tasks—reading an email comes at the cost of hearing what a speaker on the call is saying, while listening to a speaker comes at the cost of crafting a response with the quality and speed equal to when the writer is fully focused on that task.

    The actual result of multi-tasking is reduced efficiency in the workplace, and worse.

    In fact, multi-tasking almost always results in individuals taking longer to perform a task and frequently involves a higher error rate in the work.2 It’s what researchers call “task switch costs”—the idea that our ability of innate processing and the efficiency that arises from it is lost when attempting to perform multiple tasks.

    One study showed that the drop in IQ while multi-tasking was equivalent to people who stayed up all night. Some of the study’s subjects saw their IQ drop to the average IQ of an 8-year-old.3

    The harm of multi-tasking isn’t limited to operational inefficiency. It can also cause stress and anxiety, reducing the ability to focus and heightening an individual’s impulsiveness.

    Tips to Break the Multi-tasking Habit

    1. Admit you can’t multi-task! Most individuals overestimate their ability to multi-task, but it’s an illusion.
    2. Plan your day to allow for singular focus on discrete tasks for a pre-determined time (e.g., 20 minutes on task one and 20 minutes on task two, etc.).
    3. If you must “multi-task,” combine a very rote function with one that requires more focus.
    4. Prioritize your work. The urge to multi-task is fed by the need to get “everything” done, but some work is more important or has a closer deadline than others.
    5. Limit distractions (e.g., shut off the email notifications and put your phone on airplane mode).

    Don’t believe that you can become more productive and less stressed by eliminating multi-tasking? Challenge your assumptions and avoid multi-tasking for the next two weeks to see if your efficiency increases and your anxiety decreases.

    Sources:

    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7075496/
    2. https://www.dana.org/article/multicosts-of-multitasking/
    3. https://appliedpsychologydegree.usc.edu/blog/to-multitask-or-not-to-multitask/

    Please reference disclosures: https://blog.americanportfolios.com/disclosures/

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    800.889.3914, ext. 343 

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