Multi-Tasking is a Myth

This morning I read a fantastic article from Inc. Magazine called “7 Things Highly Productive People Do.” We’re all trying to figure out ways to be more productive. And some of us buy into the myth that multi-tasking is possible.

Here’s what the Inc. article had to say about the topic:
Stop multi-tasking. No, seriously—stop. Switching from task to task quickly does not work. In fact, changing tasks more than 10 times in a day makes you dumber than being stoned. When you’re stoned, your IQ drops by five points. When you multitask, it drops by an average of 10 points, 15 for men, five for women (yes, men are three times as bad at multitasking than women).”

So now I know that trying to multi-task is actually making me stupid. Great. Surprising? Not so much. I typically feel dumber when I’m trying to do too many things at the same time. This is when important details fall through the cracks and mistakes are made. We’ve all been there. We reply to all and make a fool out of ourselves. We misspell “assess” in a report, and now it says “asses.” It’s never a good scene.

I am always annoyed when I see job descriptions that list multi-tasking as a skill they’d like a new employee to have. Yes, it is possible to do more than one thing at a time. As a mother, I absolutely know that at times my role calls for me to do several things at the same time. I’m cooking dinner, while setting the table, calling my husband to remind him to pick up milk on his way home, and supervising a brother and sister who have waged war against each other.

It is physically possible to multi-task. I can do more than one thing; I just can’t do more than one thing WELL, and I often can’t finish multiple things at the same time.

Essentially, people who think they’re multi-tasking are good at starting things, but not always good at finishing them. Someone once told me that saying that you’re multi-tasking is a “polite way of telling someone you haven’t heard a word they said.” I find that to be true. Have you ever tried to multi-task during a meeting at work? When the meeting ends, you realize you have no idea what was discussed (and you pray that someone else paid attention and took notes).

Henry Ford had a great perspective on multi-tasking. He didn’t find it to be a strength we should seek, but rather a weakness we should know exists. He once said, “A weakness of all human beings is trying to do too many things at once.”

What do you think? Have you bought into the multi-tasking myth? What proactive steps can you take to get out of the multi-tasking cycle?

7 Things Highly Productive People Do by By Ilya Pozin, Inc. Magazine
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