Article, The Myth Of Multitasking by Alan Kearns :

The Myth Of Multitasking
Alan Kearns

As you read this, are you checking your voice mail, getting a call or thinking about what you have to do today on your "to do" list? This week's podcast is with Dave Crenshaw author of The Myth of Multitasking: How "doing it all" gets nothing done. The title of the book caught my attention. How many times in a job ad have you seen "must be able to multitask"? According to the Basex Group, 62% of us think that multitasking is a good thing for our work.

To be frank, at first I agreed with Dave's thoughts, then I started to fight back thinking, "Hold on. I am great at multitasking". However, I had to think about the difference between putting the kettle on while checking my email verses trying to listen to my kids while checking my email. I love Dave's definition - "multitasking is a polite way to say I have not heard a thing you said". It is hard to truly listen to anyone while you are doing something else at the same time. In a number of provinces, you are banned from using your PDA while driving, and you have to wear a headset if you are on the phone. Why? Well, the reality is that our skills drop when we are doing 2 things at once, even if they are mundane tasks.

According to research by The Basex Group, on average there is $650 billion in lost productivity in the North America economy due to multitasking. We loose on average 2.1 hours each day and over 28% of our work day is spent dealing with interruptions, not to mention the number of errors that occur due to trying to do multiple tasks at the same time. This seems counterintuitive. Most of us work in companies that are asking us to do more with less and to be more efficient. Combine a mix of 24/7 environment, toss in a bit of globalization, add a taste of technology and presto, we have a ripe mix for corporate ADD.

The 5 most common interruptions at work are:

1. A colleague stopping by.
2. Being called away or leaving your desk voluntarily.
3. The arrival of new email.
4. Switching to another task on the computer.
5. A phone call.

This is not necessarily a new Pbulilus Syrus. A Roman philosopher once said, "To do two things at once is to do neither". I think we have convinced ourselves that we can do more with more technology and less people. Technology is a wonderful thing, yet this has added a more complex work pattern. There is a principle called "switching costs" according to a study by Irvine Department of Information & Computer Science. Switching costs result when we interrupt what we are doing and go to do something else. When we go back to our original task, it takes time for us to get back into the flow.

How do you solve this issue? Here is my solution.

Say this three times:

"Multitasking is worse than a lie".
"Multitasking is worse than a lie".
"Multitasking is worse than a lie".

Of course I am not being serious. All of us remember that we need to do multiple projects at once. The key is to break up tasks into pieces that you are able to start and finish, then respond to that email that you were alerted to while working on your project.

Here are 5 simple ways from Dave's book to help you break your multitasking habit:

1. Recognize that multitasking is a lie.
2. Understand & measure the truth about using your time.
3. Create a realistic time budget per week.
4. Schedule recurring appointments with key people.
5. Set specific hours when you are available.
Here are some other ideas that I thought could help you:

If you have a door, close it.
If you have a phone, don't answer it.
If you have a computer, turn off the sound.
Work at home on specific days.
If you have a schedule, use it.
If you have a blackberry, put it down.

I personally have been reminded about this issue when it comes to really being with my family. As Dave said, "dealing with the fallacy of multitasking is ultimate about doing your work at higher quality with less stress and ultimately, the benefit of better quality relationships. Doing less with more focus equals an overall higher quality of life". And that folks, is what all of us want.

Today, take one step towards a better career situation for 2009. Take our Free 15 Minute Career Test or join our complimentary, 1 hour TeleWorkshop. Looking for more personalized support? Book an initial consultation today. Your career and your life await and everyone wins, including you.

Focused, along the road with you!


Alan Kearns is associated with the What Color Is Your Parachute? career search team, as well as being certified in the Highlands Career Assessment Methodology and the DISC Personal Profile. Alan was a founding member of the International Association of Coaches (IAC) and also has memberships with the Career Masters Institute (CMI) and the International Association of Career Management Professionals (IACMP).


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