It turns out multitasking is actually bad for your career

Multitasking. Photo: Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but I get really annoyed when I speak to someone and they, instead of listening to me, type a text message or do something else that might be deemed as multi-tasking but actually is doing both things half-heartedly.

I also see parents out with their kids and instead of giving them their full attention they are on Facebook or Twitter. Or teens who seem to never look up from their devices. And I think it’s undeniably rude when someone at work is engrossed in his or her phone when you’re trying to have a conversation. I think kids, friends and colleagues deserve our full attention.

But it’s not just me; science backs this up to. Some of the dangers of multitasking:

  • It decreases your ability to think creatively. Being creative is a higher function task, and if your attention is divided among many tasks, you literally won’t have the brainpower to see and identify creative solutions to problems.
  • It lowers your ability to filter out irrelevant information. Studies have shown that if a news program shows crawling text at the bottom with other headlines or sport scores, viewers have a more difficult time remembering what the newscaster was saying. The same is obviously true if you’re listening to your boss while checking your Twitter feed.
  • It makes you a worse manager. Because you’re less adept at telling relevant information from irrelevant, you’re less adept at filtering out the important from the unimportant and making appropriate decisions when managing a team.
  • It stunts your emotional intelligence. Research shows that if you’re a constant multitasker you’re more likely to want to engage with a text message than with the person in front of you — terrible for personal and work relationships.
  • It causes increased mental stress. And countless studies have shown that chronic stress isn’t good for the brain — or your overall health.
  • You can lose up to 40 percent of your productivity. This is called switching loss. Your brain takes a moment to reset whenever you switch tasks, and even if that reset takes only a few tenths of a second, when you’re constantly switching tasks all day long, you lose nearly half of your productive time.

How to stop multitasking.

How do you give up this bad habit? Simple. Do one thing at a time.

Ok, maybe that’s easier said than done for a chronic multitasker. So consider these suggestions:

  • Turn off all the alerts on your devices. This includes email and text alerts. (Most phones have settings that allow text alerts only from certain people during certain hours if you’re worried about missing a panicked message from your teen or spouse.)
  • Schedule time for your activities. It’s actually a great productivity exercise to estimate how long a task will take and actually put that hour or two hours or whatever into your calendar as an appointment — and then stick to it.
  • Process email only at certain times. Email is a huge focus suck if you let it be. Instead, try processing your email only a few times a day, maybe in between bigger projects. If necessary, insert a line in your signature that lets people know you do this, to train them not to expect an immediate response.
  • Start small. If uni-tasking seems daunting, try it for just 10 or 15 minutes at a time to start.
  • Clear your desk. It’s easier to focus in a visually uncluttered space.
  • Download an app that doesn’t allow you to browse certain time-wasting websites at certain times of the day — if the siren song of Facebook or Twitter is too much to avoid.
  • If you need to focus on a phone call or need to clear your head, turn and face a blank wall. No distractions mean it’s easier to focus on the one thing you choose to be doing.

Are you a multitasker or a devotee of uni-tasking? What have you tried to curb your multitasking habits? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

More from Bernard Marr:

This post originally appeared at LinkedIn. Bernard Marr regularly write about management, technology as well as the mega-trend that is Big Data for LinkedIn. If you would like to read his regular posts you can follow him or connect via Twitter, Facebook and The Advanced Performance Institute.

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