I am more productive because I multi-task.
I am a great multi-tasker.
Not a badge of honor
The ability to multi-task used to be a great attribute that employers were looking for in their employees. Now we are finding out that people are not, in fact, more productive when they multitask. In fact, research has found that people are less productive when they multitask.
For years people, myself included, have touted themselves as being able to multi-task. It was seen as a great attribute because you could get more done than people who couldn’t multi-task.
What research has proven is that you can actually only multitask two things at one time and to do so one must involve the body and one the mind. For instance, you can run and plan your grocery list in your head or clean your house and listen to a podcast, but you cannot listen to a podcast and plan your grocery list. Well, you can, but it will take you longer than if you had planned your grocery list when you weren’t doing another activity that requires mental energy.
You will still hear a lot of people claiming that they can multi-task and some employers are still touting this as a positive attribute in the workplace. There will always be some jobs that require multi-tasking, such as receptionists and anyone who has to answer a phone on demand.
If you have ever worked a job that requires answering phones, you understand this. Every time the phone rings it interrupts what you were working on. Once you get off the phone it takes time to get back to where you left off. You have lost several valuable minutes every time the phone rings just getting back into the groove.
Have you ever noticed that when you get into a lot of traffic on the highway and it gets more stressful that you get shorter tempered with your traveling companions who make noise and you feel the need to turn down the radio?
That is your natural response away from multi-tasking. You are diverting all your mental energy towards focusing on the road instead of the music and conversations in the car.
As we learn more about the myth that multitasking increases productivity we hear more about the importance of time blocking. Time blocking allows us to focus our time on the most important things, not be distracted, and get more done.
Test your productivity while multi-tasking.
Set a timer for 30 minutes. During that time work on creating your menu plan and grocery list for the week in the middle of the living room while your kids are playing. Have the television, a podcast or the radio on. Don’t silence your phone.
Once the 30 minutes is over jot down some notes about how that went. Did you complete your menu and grocery list? How detailed are they? Do you need more time to get them done? How many times were you interrupted?
Now the following week
Set a timer for 30 minutes. Work on your menu plan and grocery list for the week in a quiet space that is distraction free. Make sure the kids are either not present or cared for by someone else. Silence your phone and make sure you are not near your computer.
Once the 30 minutes is over jot down notes answering the same questions as the week before.
Now review both notes. I’m almost certain that you accomplished more during the second week. Your list is more complete, more organized, and you feel more prepared to go grocery shopping. You are also more likely to have a more successful grocery shopping trip because your list will be exactly what you need.
What do you think, are you more productive when you multi-task or not?