Sometimes it may be necessary, but multitasking doesn’t always work.
Multitasking can turn into the classic case of three things three quarters done. This can equal almost zero value.* Imagine if all leaders spent the same time (probably less) on just one of their tasks and shipped and shared the outcome? That would equal something of value.
These traps are just so easy to fall into. As work gets more complex, especially as we work from home, more people are often involved in multiple projects and the trap of multitasking gets easier to fall into. We do live in the real world and sometimes there is no option to do this, but try to block out space to do one thing at a time and. just. focus.
Many things need responding to, meetings come up, we have to wait for others to do things, we need to respond to others. These are all real things we have to manage. However, when you look at the science or even just pause to reflect, the cost is great, so we should be as conscious as possible about multitasking and try to overcome it as much as possible. A nice saying to remember that helps is…
One thing done is better than three things three quarters done.
It’s even worse if you look at the human brain. We can only keep one thing at a time in working memory. So when we multitask we are actually operating sequentially, stopping one thing, re-finding the ‘memory’ of the old one and then starting again. This costs us minutes of cognitive function (aka productivity in our kind of work) while we get up to speed with the new task. Another way to look at it, is that task switching costs us about 30% of our cognitive capacity – yep, focusing on just one thing at a time for a prolonged period of time makes you 30% smarter (or vice versa). I know what I would prefer!
* The value isn’t really zero as there is significant value in working across multiple tasks. Focusing on one thing however can help you get there a little faster.
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