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How Not to Multi task and Become More Productive

Updated on April 8, 2011

Complex Tasks and Our Brains

Multi tasking is the ability to do more than one task at a time, or switching from one task to another in quick succession. Most of us feel proud that we juggle many things at once. We believe we are more productive and more efficient.
However, science and psychology studies are proving this wrong. Complex tasks, expecially actually take a toll on our productivity. Researchers are observing what happens to the mental processes of individuals who try to perform several tasks at a time. It appears that our brains are not designed to handle intense multitasking.

However, science and psychology studies are proving this wrong. Complex tasks, expecially actually take a toll on our productivity. Researchers are observing what happens to the mental processes of individuals who try to perform several tasks at a time. It appears that our brains are not designed to handle intense multi tasking.

Psychologists did experiments by comparing how long it took for people to complete everything in the tests. The psychologists were able to measure the cost in time it to switch tasks. They assessed how various aspects of the chores including familiarity and complexity. Studies have shown that for all the tasks, the people in the survey lost time in switching tasks. The more complex the tasks were the more time was lost. When the participants switched to unfamiliar tasks, the switch took even longer. With familiar tasks, as would be expected, they were faster with the switch.

Want to Lose 40% of Your Productivity?

These studies show the brain can only handle so much. In theory, it would appear that multitasking seems to be efficient, but in reality, it takes more time and can cause more mistakes. The research showed that people often suffered from mental blocks when they switched between tasks, costing nearly 40% of productivity time.

So if you are working on a complex task, it is best not to mutitask. If you are doing a household chore and talking on the phone, it probably will have little effect. But if someone is driving and talking on the phone, a mistake can happen in ½ second of time when someone is traveling 30 MPH due to multitasking. When a drive is not fully focused on driving the car, speed and distance travelled can cause an accident that may have been avoided had they only been focusing on driving.

Our sensory input fools us into thinking that we are processing simultaneous multiple tasks as well as individual tasks. We think we are doing just fine. But studies are showing the when we do more than one task at once, we tend to do each worse than if we were doing each separately. Even with our own experience proving this to be correct, we don’t seem to retain the idea that we should do one task at a time to get better results.

Reasons Not to Multi task

The frontal lobe of our brain is where the executive thinking and processing is done. It is made up of gray matter and as we age, the executive system decreases in volume. In this area of the brain, we choose which tasks to concentrate on and what to do with irrelevant information.

There are many reasons to not multi task

  • multi tasking is not efficient
  • multi tasking causes more errors
  • it creates mor stress
  • multi tasking makes things more hectic
  • multi tasking costs productivity
  • multi tasking can leave work undone


Top Tips on How NOT to Multi task

Here are some tips on how not to multitask

  • write notes that come to mind for things to be done in a notebook
  • create to do lists, one for calls to make, things to do on the computer, errands, things to do at home, etc.
  • put your printed out emails and your snail mail in one place so you have all your communication in one area
  • section your day into blocks of time either half hour or hour blocks and make sure you have some open blocks in between. This way, you can handle something that needs immediate attention, or things that may take a little longer than expected.
  • Give attention to your most important task, first thing in the morning.
  • try to decrease other distractions so that you can focus on the task at hand.
  • If you do need to switch tasks, take a break. Breathe deeply. Instruct yourself to refocus and then take care of the chore.
  • At times, when other things land on your desk or interupt your task completing mission, put the next project in your inbox and write a note. Then continue the task you have been working on.
  • Refigure your schedule periodically, so you can see what you have completed, what additional tasks you need to take care of and adjust your schedule as necessary.
  • If another task must be handled immediately, write a note of where you are in the task you were working on. Compile all the notes and information you were working on and put it to the side. When you are ready to restart this task, you can see your notes and know exactly where you left off.
  • Take periodic breaks. Make sure to get your body moving, stretch, and even take a walk if you can.

Multi Tasking Fools Us

We think multi tasking is helping us get a lot done. But what we are really doing is overloading our mind, and creating unnecessary stress on ourselves. Getting our work done is fulfilling and important. It is also important to take care of ourselves, to enjoy ourselves, and to avoid burnout. Instead of looking to multitask, keep your sanity and your safety, and do one thing at a time.

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Comments

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    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi Dah, You are right. I think we let our mind be pulled in too many different directions and we lose our focus.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      The more I have read on such things as hypnosis, Yoga, and other things that are supposed to make people more productive I have found a common element or two. One of these is "concentration."

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi LTW, You are a great example of how to foucs and get things done. As mothers, we have to multi task, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Thanks for adding your comments to this hub.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 

      7 years ago from California

      I do freelance work now but when I worked in the corporate world, I divided up tasks. I let the phone go to voice mail and set aside time later to deal with calls. I checked email every half an hour. As a result, I easily got a lot of my real job done.

      As for mothers, we have to multi-task. We don't have a choice. But it does hurt productivity. I can't get the house cleaned properly when the children are home. There are too many disruptions. My husband takes them out every weekend, so I can clean.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi LoraKay, Glad you like the hub. What we do and what we need to do are not always the same thing. But taking one task at a time would be best.

    • LoraKayAlexander profile image

      LoraKayAlexander 

      7 years ago

      Haste makes waste...I believe you. GREAT HUB. Thanks for confirming that we need to take one task at a time. :-)

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi B, I think you are right about women and multi tasking. It might have to do with being a mother.. I always say we may lose brain cells with each child, but we gain an extra arm.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi B, I think you are right about women and multi tasking. It might have to do with being a mother.. I always say we may lose brain cells with each child, but we gain an extra arm.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi Ang, I could probably take some pointers from you . Thanks for the kind comments and up rating.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi Mentalist, Thanks for stopping by. The more I learn about you, the more I like you.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      7 years ago

      I think Woman are born to multi-task...It's in our blood. So I truly enjoyed this Hub with it's pros and cons.. And no. I sat and enjoyed it...and did not Multi-task! Thanks for sharing this timely Hub on this subject.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 

      7 years ago

      Yes, I was relaxed and only reading your article! I'm glad to hear that multi-tasking is counter-productive 'cos I'm not a big multi-tasker. I prefer to give whatevr I'm doing 100%. I think that's good enough, right? Nice topic and rating it up.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      When I get up in the morning,I've allready blocked my day,thanks for sharing toknowinfo.;)

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi Filou, I find that multi tasking is a hard habit to break.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Hi Susan, I also multi task and it can be exhausting and sometimes I end up not finishing anything(except my hubs).

    • Filou profile image

      Filou 

      7 years ago from Germany

      So true - the major reason why it takes me ages to write a hub. Simply because I always tried to do other work the same time. At the end you read everything three or four times again. Thank you for this hub.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very interesting hub. Really makes sense though when you stop and think about it. I know when I am trying to get 4 things done all at the same time I get exhausted or end up with a huge headache.

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