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Multitasking Slows You Down and Increases Errors. Here’s Proof.

I've already written several blog posts about "The One Thing" book I'm reading.  It's a super resource for me: the small business owner who needs his team to be efficient, highly productive, and the complete opposite of error-prone.

We're an Internet marketing team.   We deliver websites for our clients.  Attention to detail and elimination of errors from our work is critical for our success.

So I'm reading the book's chapter on "The Lies" and it lists there in black and white that multitasking is a farce.  Many will claim it's the reason they are so productive, but studies they quote in the book say clearly that it:

  • increases error rates,
  • reduces productivity, and
  • leads to getting more than one thing done with more mistakes and less efficiency.

Multitasking is a term that comes out of my own computer field.  I remember learning about it in college when talking about the first mainframe computers in the 60s and 70s.  It was originally coined to describe how processors in computers go from one thing to the next switching through different tasks that have been assigned to get done.  The computer processor bounces from one task to another giving the impression that many things are getting done at the same time.

Computers are really good at doing this.  They can take all the data that applies to one task and go from one to the other in sequence without missing a beat.  Unfortunately, we humans aren't nearly as good at doing that.  No matter how much multi-taskers claim it, it isn't a better way.

Here's what the book has to say about it:

  1. There is just so much brain capability at any one time.  Divide it up as much as you want but you'll pay the price in time and effectiveness.
  2. The more time you spend switched to another task, the less likely you are to get back to your original task.  This is how loose ends pile up.
  3. Bounce between one activity and another and you lose time as your brain reorients to the new task.  These milliseconds add up.  Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness.
  4. Chronic multitaskers develop a distorted sense of how long it takes to do things.  They almost always believe tasks take longer to complete than is actually required.
  5. Multitaskers make more mistakes than non-multitaskers.  They often make poorer decisions because they favor new infomation over old, even if the older information is more valuable.
  6. Multitaskers experience more life-reducing, happiness squelching stress.

After reading it, I did one thing differently and it was hard.  I eliminated my habit of switching between my work and email constantly throughout the day.  I committed myself to checking my email every hour or so and it has made a big difference especially in the area of stress.

I'll keep reading the book and sharing.  What do you think about all this?

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