creative juice

multitasking is making you bad at everything

Image from The Guardian, Daniel  J. Levitin

Image from The Guardian, Daniel J. Levitin

Your boss has assigned you a task you need to tackle.

You open up your Word doc, but then you think, “Maybe I should check my email before I begin.” There are more than 50 new emails sitting in your inbox. You start deleting spam, but then you notice there is an important email from one of your colleagues, and it’s marked urgent, so you open it. Your colleague wants to arrange a lunch meeting for tomorrow. So, you open your work calendar and check to see if you have a slot open. Unfortunately, you have a short Lync call lined up with another co-worker, but that can probably be moved. You shoot them an email asking if the call can be moved to earlier in the day. Your desk phone rings, it’s your boss. He wants you to get him the task you were assigned ASAP. Your cell phone buzzes. It’s your daughter. She needs to be picked up from school a little early today. You text her back, “I’ll try.”

What were you doing again? Oh yeah, the assignment from your boss. It’s now an hour later, and you are no further getting your work done than you were when you began work for the day.

Does this sound familiar? Unfortunately, this is par for the course in today’s world. We are becoming less and less efficient due to the many demands and distractions we are faced with each minute of the day. Multitasking is taking its toll. According to an article by Daniel J. Levitin in The Guardian, “Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are ‘not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.’ So we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.” So, back to your assigned task. Your boss has now sent you several emails asking why you haven’t turned your assignment in yet. Your daughter is texting you again, your inbox has 20 more emails demanding your attention, and a friend has sent you an instant message via Facebook. What should you do? Perhaps the best way to focus and get your job done is to turn off your cell phone, close all your browser tabs (including Facebook and other Social Media time-sucks), and even shut down your email. Close your office door and complete your task with all your focus on that one job.

When you’re done and you’ve sent the finished doc to your boss, take a breath. You did it! Then watch this video for tips to help organize your mind for future tasks.

To get more information on multitasking, read the full article by Daniel J. Levitin: Why the Modern World is Bad For Your Brain

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