Multitasking is a myth

May 27, 2008

From time to time I hear colleagues congratulating themselves on their ability to multi-task. And then, in almost the next sentence, they bemoan the constant interruptions that make up their day and say they can’t get anything done!

I recently read a post that cited some rather shocking information:

Unfortunately, the human mind cannot, in fact, multi-task without drastically reducing the quality of our processing. Brain activation for listening is cut in half if the person is trying to process visual input at the same time. A recent study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment 10 points. That is the equivalent of not sleeping for 36 hours—more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.

So, why do we multi-task? Sometimes it is because we are truly bored with what we are (supposed to be) doing in the moment. Other times we are allowing the interruptions – the instant messages, the phone calls and text messages.

But let’s not kid ourselves that it is allowing us to be more productive. All the research indicates just the opposite. It can take 10-15 minutes to return to a task when interrupted by an incoming email or phone call. That leads to days where you are just plain busy all day, and at the end of the day can’t remember what you did. There is certainly no sense of accomplishment.

Try on short periods of focused activity – and give each task the full attention it deserves. I predict you will be amazed at the difference in what you accomplish.


Establishing Protocols – Why Bother?

May 10, 2008

One thing I find interesting in my research is the extent to which very successful people have established protocols for how they handle things.

For example, one organization may have a protocol that all routine emails are answered within one week, while another company may have a protocol that all emails receive a response within 24 or 48 hours. Or, this executive only checks email once or twice a day, and has set up an autoresponder letting people know that.

So, you could be working in an environment with some already-established protocols. But it is just as likely (especially if you are a relatively new entrepreneur) that you are operating without having established protocols for yourself.

What happens when you don’t have your own procedures established? You tend to spend a lot of time dealing with things as they come in throughout the day – allowing yourself to be interrupted every time you see new email come in, or every time the phone rings.

I just heard Tim Ferriss say ‘stop treating email as if it were IM’ – and I was struck by how often we do exactly that!

In the same interview he also said that the tools you choose to use to leverage your time should be for your own convenience, not the convenience of anyone else.

What would your protocols be if you were setting them up to leverage your time and if you were setting them up for your convenience?

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