Stop multitasking. Stop it now…

13 Jan 2016

New year, fresh start… but we can’t help but flash back to last year and think about the constant juggling and stress that came with all that multitasking we did.  

How much of last year’s work habits will flow into 2016? If one of your new year’s resolutions is to be more productive, then stop multitasking.

No seriously. Stop it.

Why? Because it’s not working. And according to a couple of professors out of the States, it’s never going to work.  Our minds just aren’t wired that way.

Now, I’m not talking about the ability to be agile. That’s the skill to move effectively from one task to another. Rather, I’m talking about the amateur plate spinning that’s typical in most offices.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You start an important task that needs to be done today, only to be interrupted by new mail in your inbox. You quickly respond to the boss’s request for another report on how the numbers are looking, before getting back to whatever it was that was so important, only to then spend the next 20 minutes on the phone explaining the numbers. The important thing still needs to be done today – you just have two less hours to do it in. Urgh!

It’s the quick switching of tasks that needs to be re-wired in our heads. Because when we switch, we lose time.  A lot of it.

According to Prof Gloria Mark at UC Irvine, it takes about 23 mins and 15 seconds to fully return to a task after interruption. It’s no wonder we can only get two or three major things done in a day – we’re fighting our own inability to focus after a disruption.

So, if you want to get things done, don’t swamp your to-do-list with a hundred things and try and do them all at once. It’s not going to work.

Now, I know I’m opening myself up for the gentle tease from the significant others in my life. What do you mean stop multitasking? You weren’t really multitasking in the first place. Well, not properly

Here’s the thing. The science is really clear: neither genders can make multitasking work.  “People can’t do it very well,” according to Professor Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, “and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.”

Ok, sure, thanks for that.  I’ll let you have that conversation.


– Adam Blakney