The term “multitasking” was originally used to describe computers’ parallel processing abilities. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the term began appearing on resumes as jobseekers restyled themselves into high-tech, high-performing team players.
In the business world, where time management is always a priority, multitasking skills are expected, especially in younger workers reared in multiple media environments (i.e., computers, iPods, iPhones, TV, video games, online social sites, texting and instant messaging).
Beginning in 2005, however, studies began to show that distractions negatively affected productivity and efficiency. A study funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that “workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” The report termed this new “infomania” a serious threat to workplace productivity.
A second study from the University of California at Irvine monitored interruptions among office personnel. Researchers found that it took an average of 25 minutes for workers to recover from interruptions (phone calls, emails) and return to their original tasks.
In 2007, Jonathan B. Spira, CEO and chief analyst at the business research firm Basex, estimated that extreme multitasking and information overload cost the U.S. economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity.
The brain doesn’t handle more than one problem well. While we can certainly walk and chew gum at the same time, we cannot pay attention to multiple challenges. Instead, the brain must switch tasks, using up time and energy. And when task-switching is poorly executed, we waste time and make mistakes.
With too many simultaneous demands on the brain, a “response-selection bottleneck” occurs. Some psychologists, such as David Meyer at the University of Michigan, believe that with training, the brain can learn to task-switch more effectively. Scientific evidence reveals that certain simple tasks are amenable to improvement with practice.
But Dr. Meyer’s and others’ research has also found that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline. These chemicals, released into our bodies over the long term, can be detrimental to our health, contributing to heart disease and short-term memory loss.
The Art of Paying Attention
When we are talking about multitasking, we are really concerned with the brain functions of attention and focus. These highly prized functions include:
Individuals who learn to focus their attention and concentration clearly have an advantage over those trying to multitask in chaotic work environments.
All the research in the world won’t discourage us from juggling more than one ball. So, if we’re going to multitask, how can we do it effectively?
Perhaps the only true multitasking occurs outside conscious thought. Neuroscientists estimate that our five senses take in 11 million pieces of information every second – and only 40 are processed consciously.
Our subconscious mind filters only what requires our conscious attention, which explains why we often come up with solutions after a break or good night’s sleep.
As your coach, I give you the tools to focus your attention and concentration clearly in order to have an advantage over those trying to multitask in chaotic work environments.
You deserve more in your life, and you can start going for it today! I have a few spots available for August coaching.
Call me right now.