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What You Should Know About Multi-Tasking

The common definition of multi-tasking is the ability to do multiple things at the same time. However, the real definition of multi-tasking is the ability to mess up multiple things at the same time.

Multi-tasking became the buzzword a couple of decades ago with the start of the big computer and technology surge. And as typical of the American culture, we have taken multi-tasking to the extreme and do so in excess.

Most everyone I talk with these days feels they have more to do than they can get done in a day, and so the obvious solution is to multi-task, right? I don’t blame them. Who wouldn’t want to get more things done in the same amount of time?

However, as it turns out, scientific studies prove that many of our multi-tasking attempts actually reduce our overall productivity instead of increasing it. Multi-tasking can make you much more prone to make mistakes, cause stress, and even make you “stupid,” as it is shown to significantly affect your memory. Professor Hal Pashler at the University of California–San Diego shared this example: “If you talk on your cell phone while driving to work, you may not crash your car, but you may forget where you parked it.” Chronic multi-taskers also seem to have much more limited attention spans. (And we wonder why so many people have – or think they have – “ADD,” attention deficit disorder. My theory is that most of us have self-induced ADD - we have greatly diminished our ability to “focus” because of the constant distractions we allow.)

Juggling multiple tasks at the same time or constant “switch-tasking” often puts your body in a state of stress as well, adversely affecting your productivity and health. Researcher Walter Kirn said, “Studies find that multi-tasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy."  Not to mention that excess cortisol has also been linked to belly fat. Okay, that gets my attention!

Just because you can do something (multi-task) doesn’t mean you should. Case in point: we now have a completely new set of rules and campaigns just to tell us that we shouldn’t text while driving or operating heavy machinery. (FYI, if you haven’t seen the alarming video and latest stats about texting and driving, check it out at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/32549978#32549978. Talk about this with your kids, too. Remind them that just because they can use their iPod, computer and text while doing their homework, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.)

Another pitfall of poorly-timed multi-tasking is the harm it can have on relationships. Have you ever been in a meeting or talking with someone and you notice them looking at their phone or computer…not really paying attention to you? If so, your personal connection and the trust factor just took a dive. Fifty-four percent of employees in one survey confessed that they often read email while on the phone. I’ll admit, I’ve done this. I have also noticed it doesn’t work out.

So, can you multi-task effectively? The answer is yes and no. Research proves that you cannot focus on two things at a time – it is not possible. So when paying attention to what you are doing is necessary, stop trying to multi-task. Instead practice “single-tasking,” or what some call the “right-now” habit. Meaning, whatever you are doing, intentionally commit to doing just that one thing and to be fully engaged with the process. Push back the temptations for being distracted and chances are, you will end up getting it done better and faster, and you will feel better too! A good rule of thumb to follow is, if what you are doing involves communication or money, no multi-tasking allowed.

However, there are smart ways to multi-task that can allow you to accomplish more than one thing at a time. The key is being prepared. Organizing tasks, contacts, activities, etc., so that you can work on something else while another task is in wait mode or on “automatic” is a great way to do more in less time. For example, having your to-do list and contact numbers handy so you can make a quick call while waiting for the meeting to start is smart multi-tasking. Working out with a friend can help cross both your exercise and social goal off your to-do list.

The bottom line is, be where you are.

-- Kimberly Medlock

Posted: 5/8/2012 1:39:57 PM | with 0 comments
Filed under: blogs, business, buzzwords, chamber, growth, ideas, kimberly, medlock, memphis, multitasking, productivity, small, tasks




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SMALL BUSINESS
Your business may be small, but that doesn't mean that your impact can't be huge! The Greater Memphis Chamber's Small Business Council serves to encourage, support, recognize and be a resource to small- and medium-sized businesses in the Memphis area. Here, our talented panel of contributors will present big ideas that could make a huge difference to your small business. And don't be afraid to ask questions ... no matter how small.

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