If you are multitasking chances are you aren’t being as effective in your job or as engaged in your life as you could be. Ironic isn’t it? We multitask because we think it helps us do more when in fact multitaskers do less and miss more information. Cognitive science and studies into multitasking show that it can take up to 15 minutes to reorient after a distraction resulting in an efficiency drop of almost 40% . Not only that, these distractions reduce our long term memory and creativity!
The message is, we are not capable of multitasking, we only think we are. When we start checking emails our brains switch to our visual cortex and we are literally hearing less of what is being said in the meeting we are attending. The people you work with and your family are right to be annoyed with you, you are missing a large part of what they are saying.
The solution is really a combination of project management and being present. Being present is about paying attention what you are doing at that very moment. Its the kind of thing that a yoga instructor will encourage, but when we apply it to life and work it makes us better at whatever we are doing.
When we practice being present when we eat (which means not eating in front of the TV or computer) not only do we really experience and enjoy the flavors of what we eat, we actually eat less.
Being present in a meeting means paying attention to that meeting, if you know you are the type to get distracted or bored, then take notes to stay focused. And yes folks, let’s all try and make these meetings more effective so we don’t need to get bored, invite only who really needs to be there, have an agenda and stick to it!
Try being present when you help your kids with their homework not only will they appreciate the uninterrupted and undivided attention, I am going to bet that you will get through that work with less frustration and in less time.
You noticed that I haven’t told you to put down your iPhone or Blackberry or step away from the computer. I love what all if this technology can do to connect us and help us share information.
Project management can help us avoid multitasking. Part of project management is anticipating what will happen in a project. Sometimes that is about what will go wrong and sometime it is as simple as scheduling copy editing before a web launch. Here is the thing, you know that you need to check emails, you know that want to engage in Twitter or other social media, so why aren't you planning for it?
Peter Shankman has a great post about Why you need to get up earlier and how to do it. Reading his post I couldn’t help but think, waking up early enables Peter to be present in whatever he does in that extra time be it biking alone in Central Park, taking time to eat breakfast or watch the sunrise, or reading and catching up on email during a time when he won’t be interrupted.
I recently had coffee with a friend who has amassed a substantial following to his Twitter and blog posts - targeted, qualified followers - in 9 months. He calls it is social experiment because he wants to see how little time he can spend on this and still have it be an effective tool to grow his influence and contribute to building his businesses. To do this he dedicates specific uninterrupted time to these tasks. On Twitter he makes the best of his time by participating in specific Tweetchats that often happen weekly at a specific time and often for only an hour and often after his kids have gone to bed. This means when he is active it as at a time when he can participate in a dialogue, engage with others and make bigger impact in a short period of time. When he posts a blog entry it is a thoughtful, authentic, passionate post that is well researched and thought out and then he takes time to respond to all the comments. He plans his time and is present when he does engage.
Stop multitasking, you aren’t doing it, you are just making it harder to be effective. Today try to do one thing at a time. When you feel yourself getting distracted and itching to check email or read your Twitter stream, first take time to note where you left off in whatever you were doing so when you get back to it, you don’t need to waste 15 min trying to remember what it was that you were doing!
Good luck and let me know how it goes!