Mythbusting: Multitasking and its Effects on Productivity

Hey, I’ve got a quick question for ya…

How often do you hear that every single day? Probably a lot more than you like. It takes so much time dealing with interruptions and trying to focus on more than one thing at a time. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate feeling like I’ve accomplished zero work all day.

Accenture did some research and found that about 98% of employees around the world spend their day multitasking. Of the people surveyed around the world, 64% of people have noted that listening is extremely difficult in today’s workplace. It’s no wonder when they’re doing so much at once, where is the time or attention needed to listen?

Multitasking is the enemy of productivity. While it might seem to some that you are getting more done this way, you really aren’t. By the end of the day, you will likely have a project you’ve started but didn’t get to finish because you were starting or working on a hundred other things.

How exactly does multitasking affect you? Research has some answers to that question.

It Lowers Your Productivity

Way back in 2001, a study showed that a great amount of time was lost in switching between tasks. This was worse the more complex or complicated the task. The researcher found that productivity goes down as much as 40% just from the mental blocks people encountered when switching from one task to another.

Another study looked at how interruptions affected productivity. Two groups were asked to write essays on the randomly given topics. One group was not interrupted and the other was. The quality of work was very different between the two. The group that was interrupted wrote on average less words than the group that wasn’t and they scored lower as well.

Multitasking Also Lowers Your Emotional Intelligence (Your E.Q.)

Research conducted at the University of Sussex in the UK compared how different amounts of time spent on multiple devices at the same time (texting while watching television for example) to MRIs of their brains. The study showed that those who did the most multitasking had less brain density in the areas of the brain responsible for empathy and cognitive and emotional control.

What Can You Do To Fix the Problem?

In the survey mentioned above, people were also asked what interrupts their work days the most? The answers showed in order that the actions which interrupted them the most were:

  • Phone calls (79%)
  • Unscheduled Visits/Meetings (72%)
  • Instant messaging (30%)
  • Texting (28%)

All of those things can be pretty easily avoided for the most part. Below are some tips to help you multitask less and be more productive.

Block Your Time/Tasks

There are some different ways to do this, but the main idea is to work on only one thing at a time, without interruptions. Shut off all notifications/ringtones, and make it known that you wish to not be disturbed. Perhaps put some headphones on so people will see you are busy and don’t want to be bothered.

There is a rather popular technique to this time blocking thing, it’s called the Pomodoro Technique. You work on something for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break before getting back to work. This is great because you can get up and stretch during that 5 minute break, since sitting for too long isn’t good for you.

If you’re like me and have a standing desk, then you will need those break times so that you can get mobile. Standing still for long periods of time without movement can cause fatigue .. so move about!

Avoid Unnecessary Conference Calls

So many of us have been on a conference call that we really didn’t need to be a part of… now how many of you have multi tasked during a conference call? Probably a lot, I know I have. Being a part of a call that isn’t absolutely necessary is a drain on time and takes your focus away from what you should be doing instead.

Focus Yourself

The University of California conducted a study that showed we interrupt ourselves almost as often as others or other things do. We need to be more mindful of ourselves and work on stopping our own personal interruptions just as much as external ones. Exercise, meditation and breathing exercises are all ways to calm down and focus on what you’re doing.

Schedule and Use a Scheduler

This is such a simple hack that most people don’t even think of it right away. Schedule time to work on different tasks, just like blocking out your time, but doing it on a schedule. When people want to schedule something with you, use a scheduler application or tool to show them what time spots you have available. I love Calendly, so check it out, you won’t be disappointed. Adding all of this to my work life has really helped my productivity soar.

Finally, one book that I always recommend for anyone in business to read, is Dave Crenshaw’s The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done. It’s Lending Enabled for all you Kindle lovers, too 🙂

About Out of the Office Virtual Assistance:

At Out of the Office, we offer ideas and ways to increase your productivity, decrease your workload, and work more efficiently. We nurture a successful business relationship, while continuing to grow as your business partner. We are focused on streamlining your administration, social media planning and execution, and offering creative solutions for your business success.

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