why multitasking makes you less efficient

I’ve always prized myself on being an excellent multitasker.  Juggling 15 projects at once was the norm.  For many years, I assumed that my work was top quality – I was certainly receiving feedback to that effect.  And then, bit by bit, the stress & the energy issues starting peeking out.  My ability to focus, the quality of my work, my happiness – all starting sliding downhill rapidly.

The bulk of that is a much larger story for another day.  Today is focused on one thing – multitasking – and why it’s actually your enemy.

In May 2012, I attended the Wisdom 2.0 Business conference in San Francisco.  On the first day, Kelly Traver, MD (founder of Healthiest You) gave a presentation titled “Connecting Wellness & Innovation.”  Being a science geek (especially biology), I loved all the neuroscience details.  The presentation was chock full of information and ideas.  But there was one idea that was the most actionable for me in the moment.

Multitasking is not possible.

The brain can’t do it.  When you switch from one thing to another, synapses in the brain fire, and it’s like changing gears on your car.  So when you are supposedly “multitasking,” you’re not actually handling multiple things simultaneously.  You’re really flipping back and forth from one task to another, and your brain correspondingly is changing gears back and forth rapidly.  And like the gears on your car, switching back and forth rapidly only wears them out faster and means you need some serious service sooner.

That’s just not efficient.

So here’s my challenge to you…  Block time in your calendar for your different projects for the next 2 weeks.  Key here: hold yourself to it.  During each time block, don’t check email (unless that’s the block you’re in!), don’t think about another project, nothing – single focus on the one project you have designated for that time.  And when the time is up on that block of time, move on to the next thing you have scheduled.

If you are able to really incorporate this behavior shift into your routine, my hunch is that you will actually get more done and that your work will be higher quality.  I double dog dare you to prove me right. 🙂

Try it out and report your results below. I can’t wait to read about your success.