The Dangers of Multitasking

I’ve been reading a lot lately that when it comes to multitasking we are really just fooling ourselves into thinking we are being more productive.   We think that by doing two or three (or more) things at once we are getting more done.  The reality is much different.  Unlike today’s modern computer processors which can handle different tasks at the same time our brains are only able to handle one task at a time.  When we multitask our brains have to stop thinking about the old task and start thinking about the new task each time we switch.

Switching might work great if you are doing something like converting DVD’s so they can play on your iPad which takes a few clicks to launch the software and conversion process then waiting around for an hour or so while the DVD converts and then having to tend to the conversion results once it is over.  During that hour your brain can safely focus on whatever else you need to get done.  The process does not work so well when you try to do rapid fire changes.  For instance, check email during a conference call.  If you do that, your brain, which can only focus on one thing at a time, will either read the email and not listen to the conversation or listen to the conversation and not really read the email.  Either can result in missing a key piece of information that someone is trying to convey to you.

Of course, there are other potentially bad things that can happen when you try to multitask, like what happened to me a few weeks ago when I thought it would be a good idea to check on email during a particularly slow part of a staff meeting.  I got an email with a link to a blog about developing your career.  Since the staff meeting was carrying on about an area not relevant to me I thought this would be a great time to check out the blog.  The problem was the blog was about a cat sitting on a staircase doing things cat’s do while the CEO was talking from the same staircase.  It was so funny I had to catch myself from laughing out loud.  I think I sounded like I choked on something because everyone suddenly was worried about me and wondered why I was chocked up about what they said.  Fortunately, I was able to excuse myself and went to the restroom to recover a little of my quickly disappearing dignity.

I learned my lesson about multitasking during meetings that day, but while that was a quick reminder of the trouble multitasking can get you into, the bigger issue is what has been proven in study after study.  Multitaskers miss critical information being conveyed to them and when it comes to anyone in business, that can be the difference between making a critical connection on a successful endeavor and missing the link that results in yet another missed opportunity.  In today’s world, few businesses can afford the latter.

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