From switchtasking to monotasking

Dave CrenshawA lot of research has been done on the topic of multitasking and the conclusions all point in the same direction. Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at the time

[Steve Uzzell].

Studies show that only a very small percentage (2%) of people can multitask effectively. Trying to focus on more than one thing causes a 40% drop in productivity (that’s 2.1 hours a day that’s ‘lost’ due to interruptions or distractions). The odd thing is that most people know focusing on one thing is more effective, yet the feeling remains that you’re accomplishing more. And technology (smartphones, laptops) encourages this fruitless multitasking. To be correct, most activities referred to as multitasking should be called switchtasking, as we switch very quickly from task to task.

Picture from Kyle Pearce (Creative Commons Flickr)

Dave Crenshaw, author of ‘The Myth of Multitasking’, also differentiates between background tasking (listening to music while jogging) and switchtasking (switching attention between several tasks). During the mental juggling between different tasks, two things happen – one is the decision to switch (a lot of times it’s not voluntarily, but the phone rings or a colleague asks something) and the second is to activate the ‘rules’ for whatever you’re about to do. The switching costs depend of course on how complex or simple the tasks are – sometimes it can even require over 100% or more if you’re doing very complicated tasks. And the switching cost is even higher when we give people (family, friends, colleagues) segmented attention, because then we’re not only losing time but even damaging relationships.

The next time you find yourself multitasking when you are trying to be productive, make a quick assessment of the various things you are trying to accomplish. Eliminate distractions and try to focus on one task at a time.

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