Multi-tasking is a reality of our current world. The ability to juggle two (or ten, or twenty) things at once has become a point of pride for many of us.
“I just dialed in on a conference call while plugging in sales projections and making a latte and updating my fantasy football picks!”
When someone tells a story like that, we all laugh and usually congratulate the storyteller on his or her juggling abilities. (Unless, of course, you are that person’s supervisor, in which case you might raise an eyebrow.)
But should we really be celebrating this “skill”? Multi-tasking, by its very definition, demands split focus. In some situations, split focus is deadly. Take texting and driving. But even when it’s not potentially lethal, multi-tasking can have serious consequences.
Depending on which researcher you ask, our brains are designed to hold somewhere between three and seven simultaneous thoughts, memories, or pieces of information. Most of us fill up that quota without even trying. Think of your mind like a web browser. You probably have seventeen tabs open at once (in fact, how many literal internet tabs do you have open right now?), but every time you click off one on to another, you have to briefly re-acquaint yourself with the task at hand. It might only be a second or two, but it adds up. And if you’re constantly switching back and forth, you lose tons of time in transition.
And that’s not even scratching the surface of the most obvious problem with multi-tasking: Aside from everything taking longer, your focus suffers. Can you really assert that you gave that conference call or those sales projections 100% of your effort? Of course not, because they didn’t have 100% of your focus.
What if you focused 100% on the conference call, and then did your sales projections, and then drank your latte while you update your fantasy picks? You might think: “That’ll take four times as long.” But will it? When you take into account how much more quickly you can accomplish something when you hunker down and focus on it, will it really take more time? What about when you take into account the time you’ll probably spend re-doing and improving a task that only received partial focus the first time?
We’re not asking you to give up multi-tasking entirely. That would be impossible for most of us. We’re simply asking you to segment. Pare down. Focus. And, of course, delegate whenever possible. Let us know if we can help.