Most of us think of multitasking as a necessary part of life. How else could we possibly meet the demands of our over-scheduled lives? The truth is, you can only truly multitask (accomplish more than one task simultaneously) if… one or more of the tasks is “second nature” or if the tasks being performed involve different brain processes. For instance, if you’re reading a book, you can listen to instrumental music at the same time and retain what you’re reading. But, if you listen to music with lyrics and read at the same time, you won’t be able to retain as much of the information. This is because both reading and listening to songs with words activate the language center of the brain. And the brain literally cannot process more than one task in any given center at a time.
For those who believe in multitasking, what does this really mean? It means that you might feel like you’re multitasking, and it might even look to others like you’re multitasking, but you’re actually switching from one task to another over and over again! It’s impossible to complete tasks like filing papers, reading email and talking on the phone at the same time. What you’re actually doing is starting and stopping each task repeatedly. This is known as “serial tasking,” not multitasking.
A recent Harvard Business Review article said multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ. Yikes!
The solution is to shift to single or mono-tasking, that is focusing on one task at a time until it’s finished.
Try these strategies to start the shift to mono-tasking:
1- Remove distractions from your workplace
When you can eliminate distractions such as phone or email alerts, it makes it easier to concentrate. Turn these alerts off during periods of time when you are trying to mono-task.
2- Fully concentrate on one task
Train yourself to be fully devoted to one task at a time. Start by doing this in 15-minute increments, until you can build up to more. Set a timer and stick with it, without shifting to another task. Changing habits takes time and commitment. Keep in mind, it takes 21 days to create a new habit.