In this fast-paced world, it’s not uncommon for people to think that multitasking is actually a good thing and something they should become better at doing. There is a (wrong) belief that juggling multiple tasks at once helps us get more tasks done. As a very experienced business coach (and I’ll say somewhat of a Time Mastery expert), I know for a fact that overall, multi-tasking has quite the opposite effect. There are some minor exceptions, but they are very minor and I’ll cover those at the end. But first, I’m going to explain why multi-tasking actually works against us, not with us, when it comes to effective time management.
What is Multi-Tasking?
Multitasking is the practice of performing multiple tasks simultaneously or switching back and forth between tasks in a rapid manner. For example, talking to someone on the phone and responding to emails. In short, research has shown that our brains are not designed to handle multiple tasks at once. Flitting back and forth might make you look busy, or you think you’re getting lots done, but reality is you’re doing a lot, but not necessarily getting a lot done.
Why Multi-Tasking is Not Effective
1. Reduced Focus and Productivity
When we multi-task, our attention is divided between the different tasks, which means we are not able to fully concentrate on any one task properly or fully. This divided attention leads to a decrease in overall performance and an increase in errors. In fact, studies have found that multitasking can reduce productivity by up to a whopping 40%. That somewhat defeats the purpose of why people multi-task.
There is a thing called “task switching cost” which means that every time you jump from task to task (and remember if you’re doing two things at once, then that is occurring in micro burst, our brains need time to refocus and get back into the flow of the new task. This transitional time can be a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the complexity of the tasks, essentially dividing our brain. These cumulative transition times can add up and significantly reduce our overall efficiency.
2. Increased Errors and Reduced Accuracy
When we multi-task, the quality of our work diminishes and we are more prone to making mistakes. Constantly switching between tasks can lead to errors in judgment, missed details, impaired decision making skills and a decrease in the quality of our work, which for those of us in small business, can in turn lead to decreased customer satisfaction or loss of valuable opportunities. Additionally, mistakes can cost us money in real dollars, either having to rectify work, or a customer refusing to pay, waste and often loss of reputation. Errors and mistakes are not good for our own mental state (who thrives on always making mistakes?) plus it does very much affect our bottom line.
3. Cognitive Overload and Stress
Multi-tasking increases cognitive load, overwhelming our brains with excessive information and demands. This overload contributes to higher stress levels and lowers overall job satisfaction. Business owners already face various stresses, and multi-tasking only adds to that burden. At work, when we get a thousand interruptions, it is essentially the same thing. We can’t get work done, we feel overwhelm and generally are less than optimally productive. When people are long-term stressed, they either get sick, need mental health leave or simply move on. None of those is good for a business for all the obvious reasons.
4. Tasks Simply Don’t Get Completed, or Completed Well
When we multi-task, often we get through less and the quality of our work diminishes, so in turn our clients are not as happy and personally, neither are we. Love that feeling of getting a task done, and done well? I know I do and I know that multi-tasking isn’t the means to achieve that feeling of satisfaction. Personally, job satisfaction plummets and that has a negative effect on us and the people in our teams and organisations.
5. It Can Be Incredibly Rude
When you are clearly doing something else, whilst talking with a person, or having a meeting, that sends a very clear message that you don’t value them, nor value their time. People doing emails, whilst in meetings is rude. I had a prospective client on a sample coaching session who was washing their dishes. For a start, the noise for me was an interruption, but also they kept missing points of what I was saying and I had to repeat myself. Even being on your phone whilst paying for your groceries is rude. Not only does usually the task take longer, but you’re not making the other person feel valued or appreciated. Maybe you don’t care if they are not a client or customer, but perhaps you should. Certainly, if your rudeness loses friends, clients, customers or suppliers, then this affects you negatively personally, professionally or in your business.
Where Multi-tasking Can Work
There are some instances where you can perform two tasks at once. For example, you might listen to a podcast whilst jogging so you are exercising both your brain and your body at once. You might put pens back in the desk drawer whilst on the phone, and especially if you’re on hold, or note-taking isn’t required. Folding the washing whilst chatting with friends or family is another example that can work – but ideally not washing dishes and talking because of the noise factor. In essence, a very low-function task that is almost automatic (I don’t have to think about how to fold clothing or how to walk) being combined with another task. Two high-level tasks like emailing (which is essentially in itself three tasks: typing, thinking and composing) and talking (which is speaking, thinking and listening) really does not work.
How a Business Coach Can Assist with Effective Time Management
When I’m working with clients, I help them with their Time Mastery, in many ways:
- Education and training specifically in Time Management
- Goal Setting and planning which provides clarity and direction
- Review of current situations and helping to prioritize what needs to be done
- Accountability to ensure tasks get done and focus is maintained
- Support to build good habits and help you see what habits need to be ditched
- A fresh perspective to see what is ineffective and needs to be changed
- Guidance around tools, technology and technique for improvement
- A helping hand to get started on building effective systems, or to delegate
- Showing owners skills to overcome procrastination, perfectionism, distractions etc.
Often, as I work with clients, I access, audit and identify where improvement lay, then work with clients to implement that improvement. As an example, I helped one client (who was the business’ Senior BDM) get back 2 hours EVERY day; which meant he had 10 more hours in a week to sell more! Greater sales then equated to greater profit, without having to work harder – just smarter. This became an awesome outcome for my client which allowed them to then move to the next level of growth in that business.