For the sake of your productivity, please give this blog post 100% of your attention.
A lot to ask, isn’t it? As a busy professional who spends all day glued to a smartphone, you’re probably always tackling more than one task at a time — checking your email in meetings, for example, and researching or writing text messages while you’re on the phone.
Multi-tasking is the norm these days, especially for high achievers like you. And it’s reasonable to assume that the ability to multi-task is a desirable trait — even a skill. After all, if you’re doing two things at once, you’re getting more done, right? Maybe not.
According to an article in Psychology Today, “The True Cost of Multi-Tasking,” the concept itself is a myth, because we can’t actually perform more than one high-order cognitive task at a time — at least not well. The article explains that what we think of as multi-tasking is more like “task-switching,” where we move constantly among various open projects — write a little more of the text message, then re-focus on the meeting we’re in, then back to the text, then open a web browser and do a little research for another open project, then back to the meeting… and on and on.
The author, Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., notes that even though these task-switches might take only a fraction of a second, when we move back and forth like this all day, it can sap 40% of our overall productivity. That’s because it takes longer complete our work when we shift our focus repeatedly than when we see a single task through, uninterrupted, to completion.
Even worse, Dr. Weinschenk notes that when we task-switch all day, we are far more likely to make errors than if we just focused on one task at a time.
According to a recent Pew Internet Research report, focusing on the hyper-connected lives of Millennials, several studies show that “the effects of multi-tasking are negative, even for those who think they are good at it.”
Back to you. You’re overloaded, probably regularly facing a tight deadline or an eager client or colleague. And because you have a WiFi device in your hands all day, you’re likely tempted all the time to multi-task. Here are a couple of examples where you’re better off single-tasking instead:
1) Don’t write emails or texts while you’re on the phone
Ever been on a call and typing an email simultaneously — only to have the other person ask you a question you couldn’t answer because you hadn’t really been paying attention?
This sort of task-switching has far more downside risk than the upside of finishing that email a few minutes sooner. You could damage your reputation and relationship with your caller — who won’t like feeling ignored. You also run the risk of sending out a typo-ridden email because you weren’t fully paying attention to it either — and that puts at risk your reputation with the recipient.
Phone call: full attention. Then email: full attention.
2) Don’t glance at your phone during face-to-face conversations
This one is particularly difficult these days. A meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant, for example, or even a brief conference-room gathering, means you’ll be “unplugged” from your social and professional worlds for the duration — at least that’s what it should mean.
But the temptation can be overwhelming to glance down at your phone and check emails, texts and voicemails (and even friends’ Facebook status updates, if the meeting is boring). Don’t do it. In fact, don’t even place your phone or tablet on the table where you can see it — even if the other people with you place their devices in front of them.
If you’ve gone to the trouble to meet with these people, you want to be at your best, most engaged, most insightful. You can’t do that if you’re task-switching between the meeting right in front of you and all of those electronic disturbances on your smartphone.
Become a Great Single-Tasker
Everyone thinks they can multi-task, but they’re wrong. In reality, all they’re really doing is completing tasks poorly all day. Let the other high-achievers make that mistake. Instead, focus on becoming a great single-tasker.