It’s 2.30pm and you’re at work. You’ve come back from lunch and you’re trying to fight the post-lunch slump as you have a deadline staring at you in the eye. You’re trying to focus, however emails regarding other projects keep popping up, distracting your train of thought.
In addition to your pesky email, you also have your calendar open, a document or two, some form of social media and a few other programs running, some of which are meant to help with your efficiency.
As you’re working, you flick between these programs each time there’s a pop-up notice or when you remember to update a document or schedule a meeting. You probably feel that having all these windows open acts as a helpful reminder of all the tasks you need to do, although perhaps you’ve also started to become anxious by these continual reminders?
Particularly as the working day comes to an end and you feel like you’ve partially completed many tasks, however haven’t accomplished anything in its entirety.
Does the above scenario sound familiar?
Multitasking Is A Myth
Before you gasp in denial, studies have shown that we make an astounding three times more mistakes when interrupted and that the brain cannot multitask as it works in a sequential process. Therefore, when you think you’re multitasking, you’re actually just switching from one task to the next. This may come as a shock, particularly to women who are believed to be better multitaskers than men, however it just means that while you may be able to do many things at once, it takes you longer to complete each single task.
Is Google Making Us Stupid?
This argument came into the spotlight in the August 2008 edition of The Atlantic magazine, when they ran an article called Is Google Making Us Stupid.
The article, which is about the Internet having detrimental effects on cognition by diminishing our capacity to concentrate and contemplate, raised some very valid points about the way we’ve become accustomed to work.
We’ve become so dependent on our interaction with the Internet and its ability to bring us instantaneous results, that our cognition (mental processes which includes memory, thinking and problem solving) are not being challenged in the same way they used to.
Therefore, not only are we getting distracted and becoming less productive as a result of online multitasking, we’re also using less of our cognitive function, whether it be to make decisions or when using our memory.
While the results of this are yet to be examined over a long period of time, it does make you wonder whether this type of behavior over a lifetime could leave our memories and ability to concentrate in a more fragile condition than today’s generation of grandparents!
How Can We Improve The Way We Work?
The workplace has evolved with these times so there’s is an expectation that you respond to an email instantly or that you work on multiple tasks at once. Even outside of the workplace, our relationship with the Internet is the same. For example, while you’re at home searching for a holiday destination or browsing the online shops, you probably also have Twitter, Facebook and your personal email open without you even realizing.
While this behavior has become ingrained, it’s important you learn to switch off and focus on doing one task at a time.
If you’re working on a project, try and switch off all of the unnecessary browsers and just focus on the one task at hand. Make a habit out of only checking your email at planned intervals of the day, for example, first thing in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day. Let your colleagues know of this schedule so if there’s anything urgent they need to contact you about, they know you’re not ignoring them!
It’s also useful to write a to-do-list in the morning, and work through each task one-by-one, without moving onto the next task before completing the one you’re on. This can be difficult to start with, although by getting into this habit, you’ll not only notice your productivity levels going up, but your anxiety levels as a result of the constant interruptions going down.
Do you feel that multitasking while online impacts on your productivity or makes you feel more stressed throughout your working day? If you’ve noticed any patterns or ways to improve this, let us know, as we’d be interested to hear what works for you.