Did you know it is neurologically IMPOSSIBLE to multitask unless one of the tasks is automatic like breathing? The term ‘multitasking’ was first coined in 1965 by IBM to describe the capabilities of its latest computer marvel. However, the reality is, our human brains are not built like the modern computer, and we are just not able to successfully do two things at once when both require our attention. Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from claiming this superpower and believing we’re effective multitaskers. Trying to do too many things at once has made us increasingly less productive, and the multitude of distractions we face on a day-to-day basis is often debilitating. It’s time to let go of the concept of multitasking, find our focus, and increase our daily efficiency in the office.
What is the cost?
The constant popcorning from one task to another we have adopted in our daily workdays comes with a significant cost. We are all conditioned to immediately respond to the ding of a new email or text message, and we are convinced that in order to provide the best customer experience, no phone call should ever roll to voicemail. But all evidence points to the contrary. The more you switch between tasks without completing them, the higher the price you pay to get back on track and the less efficient you actually are. This is commonly referred to as the disruption cost. A study performed by psychologist Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine who studies digital distraction, discovered that it takes, on average, 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after an interruption. Yes, you read that right! Constantly switching your attention from one task to another and allowing distractions and disruptions can literally cost you hours a day.
Think of your brain as a piece of paper. When you switch tasks, you have to erase all of the information on that piece of paper you have already compiled in order to gather information for the new task. So, when you are ready to return to the initial task, you must rewrite all of the information on that sheet of paper before you can resume your work on that task. Not only does this lead to lower productivity, it is also linked to increased stress, anxiety, and inevitably, burnout.
What is the solution?
So, now that we know that multitasking is detrimental to our workdays, how do we find our focus in such a digitally distracting world? Although it isn’t a difficult answer, it can be hard to implement – REMOVE THE DISTRACTIONS! I know, I know…we are all so ‘plugged in’ at all times, it will initially take some training – both personal training and training those you work with and for. But when everyone understands the drain on productivity that occurs when we are constantly checking emails, texts, and taking phone calls, the better off and more productive we will all be. Begin by silencing your phone and computer notifications and closing your email. Take some time to clean your desk of everything not related to the task at hand. University of Minnesota Professor Sophie Leroy also suggests grouping like tasks during your day, so you do not suffer too much from attention residue. This term describes our brain’s propensity to linger on information from one task to another. So, if we are performing similar tasks, there is less of a transition necessary for our brains. A great way to help you with beginning this process is to adopt the practice of time blocking. This will help you group like tasks and provide more structure to your day. For an in-depth look at time blocking, you can read our blog on the topic here. When switching from one task or time block to another, do your brain a favor and include transition rituals. Take a bathroom break, go for a short walk, or grab more coffee. Do something that signifies to your brain it’s time to switch gears. By rejecting the concept of multitasking, removing distractions, learning to time block, and implementing transition rituals, you can find your focus amidst the barrage of digital distractions.
If you find yourself a victim of the multitasking myth and need help finding your focus, reach out to Remote COO today. Let’s make focus your competitive advantage!