Why Multitasking Fails

Do you think you’re good at multitasking?  Feeling energized that you can accomplish writing multiple email messages while simultaneously listening to discussions on a conference call?  The ability to multitask is something some people brag about.   It is also the way many people who struggle with being able to focus operate.  Is it the most efficient way to do great work?

Trying to Do It All

In business and in our personal lives, there seems to be more going on than ever and we are compelled to try to do it all – sometimes all at once. But the reality is, we just can’t do that.  It turns out that 2% of the population are good at multitasking and these supertaskers are true outliers.  For most, we’re actually shifting back and forth from one task to another, such as typing an email and then listening to that conference call conversation, then back to our email and so on.

The Mental Effects

In an article in The Guardian, research reveals how quick switches from one task to another leaves a sensation of being frantic, increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as adrenaline, and causes overstimulation of the brain. All of these effects result in a type of mental fog yielding demonstrably less efficient productivity.

Cause of Distraction and Multitasking 

Although nothing new to any business professional that our endless barrage of emails can be the leading cause of distraction and constant multitasking. But here is a scary fact as to what this may be costing us in IQ. While focusing on a single task, the distraction of an unread email in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points. I have about 50 in my inbox right now (I wonder what that’s doing)! How productive (and smart) could we be if we shut off our email for an hour and focused on just one thing? In fact, what if we turned everything off and concentrated on one thing at a time?

A Rule for Success

Perhaps the constant task-changing is really just a distraction from doing our best work. If we want to do something well, we may need to force a sort of “single-tasking” into our life, both at work and at home. It could help both us both de-stress and improve the quality of everything that we do.


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