Multitasking Sucks Even More Than You Thought

By Linsey Knerl on 11 September 2014 0 comments

College students, corporate executives, and busy moms rely on multitasking to complete their long list of things to do each day. There are papers to read, emails to send, places to be, and much to be accomplished. (See also: The Simple Way Multitasking Can Actually Work)

However, a recent study has found that multitasking actually lowers your IQ, decreases your productivity, and reduces your ability to make decisions.

Imagine for a moment that you are at home, you have kids at the table working on homework, occasionally asking questions about places they are confused, dinner is cooking on the stove, the laundry is going and needs to be pulled out of the dinner before it wrinkles, the baby is getting dangerously close to doing something he's never done before and the phone rings.

Your brain is in a few different places.

You are multitasking.

You are getting things done.

However, that multitasking has decreased your brain function slightly and reduced your ability to make a clear decision. So when the nice lady from your child's school calls and asks you to chair a fundraising committee, you commit without being able to give it thorough thought. Later in the evening, when your mind is clearer, you realize what you've committed to and how difficult it is going to be for you to accomplish.

Multitasking may feel like the way to accomplish your mile long to-do list but it is actually diminishing the core of your productivity — your decision making abilities and your brain function.

So, what can you do instead?

To increase your productivity, focus on your tasks completely, and clear out your to-do list, you need to create an action plan.

Making and Executing an Action Plan

1. Make a List

Put the most important items on your list at the top. These should be items that must be completed today, followed by items that can be put off, all the way down to items that you'll probably put off until tomorrow but would feel amazing if you completed them today.

2. Highlight Quick Tasks

Those items that only take a quick minute or two to complete, like replying to your mom's email or rescheduling your dentist appointment get highlighted. If you aren't sure how long it will take, for example there is a good possibility you'll be on hold with your credit card company, don't highlight. Just those items you know won't take very long.

3. Turn Off All Distractions

That means your phone gets silenced and placed somewhere so you don't see notifications pop up on the screen, your email gets turned off, Facebook is closed out, turn off the television and get the kids set up with something that will keep them occupied for awhile if needed.

4. Set the Timer

A timer is your best friend when you want to be productive. It gives you a boundary for when you should be working. Set the timer for 20 minutes. During that time, focus all of your mind on one task. Do not allow yourself to become distracted during those 20 minutes.

If the timer is still ticking after you've finished a task, move on to the next one on your list. If you only have three or four minutes left on the timer, do one of the items that has been highlighted.

Don't forget to cross things off as you complete them. It may seem silly but the simple act of drawing a line through something can be very rewarding.

5. Take Frequent Breaks

After 20 minutes has passed, stop working and reset the timer for five minutes. During this time do not focus on work. Get up and walk around. Fill your water glass. Check on the kids. Do a little jig in the living room to get your blood pumping. Breathe deeply a few times before refocusing on another 20 minutes of work.

After three cycles of work, take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. This is the time when you can check Facebook, check your phone, or gossip with a friend in the next cubicle. Don't forget to have your timer set and do not go over your break time.

6. Assess Your Progress

After your work day (or hour) is complete, assess your to-do list. Determine if there are items that need to be rearranged or crossed off. If it is the end of the day, write a new list for tomorrow before you leave for home.

Productivity Hints

There are a few things you can further do to increase your productivity.

1. Keep It Simple

This is especially true for tasks like organization. Break up larger tasks into smaller, simple ones that will get you moving faster through the project. If you are working on organizing a space, don't get up and relocate every item you touch. Instead, put them into categories (like donate, toss, recycle or living room, kitchen, bedroom) that can they be put away later.

2. Group Like Things Together

If you have a number of similar tasks that need to be done, do them at the same time or one after the other. For example, if you have three phone calls to make, make them in the same 20 minute time frame, or if you have files that need to be delivered throughout the office, deliver them in the same trip.

This also works for errands you are running. Combine them so you aren't running across town multiple times wasting your time and energy.

3. Set Yourself Up for Success

Whether it is putting a sign on your door that says "do not disturb," putting your phone in another room, or hiring a babysitter to occupy your children for two hours, find ways to decrease distractions. This will ensure that you are successful with completing your tasks.

If the only danger in trying to do too many things is that you're not able to do any of them terribly well, then it might not be enough to stop multitasking and start focusing on each task individually. Now that we know that it can also make you dumb, it may be time to start slowing down and truly live in the moment.

Are you still multitasking? Why? If you aren't, what are you doing instead to get things done?

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Multitasking Sucks Even More Than You Thought

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