The Perils of Multitasking

Thanks to the rise of email and the internet, multitasking is a huge phenomenon.

In addition to our three established methods of communication, answering mail and phone calls, and speaking to people in person, we now have an ever-increasing email inbox to manage.

Instead of using books to look up information, we can access most data for free, immediately, online.

Add to these communication and research activities internet shopping, plus access to online newspapers, magazines and blogs, and it’s clear why we’re tempted to multitask. We can access infinite tools for work and play instantly.

While technology increased our ability to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, it also raised the bar on what we’re expected to accomplish. Most importantly, technology consolidated the location of most tasks to our desks.

With much more to do, and one place in which to do all of it, we try to beat the system. Thus began multitasking.

Research shines a light on the perceived benefits of multitasking:

* A 2008 study by Microsoft and the University of Illinois showed that we’re interrupted by an average of 4 emails per hour. When we switch from our current task to the email, it takes about 15 minutes to return to our task, and another 10 minutes to regain our original focus.

* In a 2005 study by the University of London, participants doing problem solving tasks amidst incoming phone calls and emails lost 10 IQ points. To put things into perspective, participants under the influence of marijuana lost only 4 IQ points.

The bottom line? Multitasking does not make us more efficient. On the contrary, multitasking makes us less efficient. And dumber.

Yes, writing that memo is probably a drag. However, if you resist the temptation to switch to this article on the fate of Michael Jackson’s children (I know, it’s cruel, and I’m sorry.) or respond to an email, you’ll get it done much faster. And you’ll do a better job doing it.

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