Earlier in my career, I fancied myself to be a pretty savvy multi-tasker. I honestly thought this was the best way to fit more into my day. I’d check emails during meetings. I’d jump back and forth between projects. And as much as I hate to admit it, I considered conference calls a gift of free time to do email. That is, I used to work this way.
Unfortunately, this multitasking approach often left me feeling stressed and frustrated about how little I was actually accomplishing. About a decade ago, I finally started listening to the very compelling research. I decided to change my ways. I decided to start focusing on one thing at a time.
My name is Ann Gomez and I now consider myself to be a reformed multi-tasker.
There are three compelling reasons that motivated me to change my ways.
- Focusing is Faster:
When we are trying to do two things at the same time we are actually switching back and forth between the two tasks. Scientists have concluded that our brains cannot parallel process two tasks. We actually sequentially process. Every time we switch between tasks, we lose time in the transition. The more we switch, the more time we lose.
Dave Crenshaw coined the term “switch-tasking” in his book The Myth of Multitasking. He makes a pretty compelling case for how much time we waste switching from one task to another. And if you’re interested, ask me to tell you about a simple exercise that shows that multi-tasking takes roughly twice as long. Focusing is always faster.
- Focusing is Better:
When we jump back and forth between multiple tasks, we are more likely to make mistakes. A mistake might be a simple “oops” like forgetting to add an attachment to an email. Or it could be a more substantial mistake like sending confidential information to the wrong person. Regardless, mistakes are more likely to happen when we are multi-tasking.
If details are important in your job (and I’m guessing they are), then focusing on one task at a time will allow you to deliver better quality work.
- Focusing is Easier:
Doing two things at once is draining. It is also more stressful. We only have so much energy to work with each day. And we end up squandering our energy when we multi-task. This is time that we don’t have to waste during the holiday hustle.
Focusing is a calmer, less stressful and more energy-efficient way of operating.
That sums it up: three solid reasons why it’s the “one thing at a time” approach for this gal. I can guarantee I won’t even introduce myself as a multi-tasker again. Does the same apply to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts about multi-tasking. Please use the comments below to weigh in on whether focusing trumps multi-tasking.