Multi-tasking is incompatible with efficiency. Why?

Monday morning. We sit down in front of the computer with a cup of coffee and open our mail. We’re almost ready to start answering e-mails and begin our workday when suddenly the telephone rings. In the middle of the call, our boss comes over and assigns us a task. We get to work on it immediately, but in another minute we have to be in a meeting. Before we know it, the day’s over. What happened? Simply the everyday story of many professionals who frequently feel overwhelmed by the daily vortex. This habit of jumping from task to task not only causes stress but also has a cost.

Some studies show that we lose more than 30 working weeks each year due to multi-tasking. If we do the math, that’s half a year. And the fact is that multi-tasking is incompatible with efficiency. How many times do we ask ourselves “Now, where was I?” before getting back to something? The fact is that we are not multi-tasking: we can’t think simultaneously about two or more things at the same time; what we’re doing is switching from one to another and really only working on one task at a time. Changing activities too frequently can lead to mental blocks that translate into hours, days and weeks of time wasted.

Plus, we often make errors that we wouldn’t if we were concentrated on just one task. The reality is that so-called “multi-tasking” not only wears us out but also makes the quality of our work much worse. In the United States alone, multi-tasking costs the economy around 500 billion dollars a year. Other studies suggest that doing many tasks at the same time reduces our IQ by up to 15 points.

The good news for companies is that prioritizing tasks dramatically reduces this cost in lost productivity associated with multi-tasking. Time-management courses like Triskelion teach us techniques that help us be more efficient. How? Through a simulator that guides and advises us on how to concentrate on just one task at a time, making us much more productive.

The benefits of prioritization are especially noticeable during meetings. To get an idea, in America some 25 million meetings take place daily, so seems logical that we would also try to prioritize tasks in the meetings themselves. Over 90% of people admit to falling into multi-tasking during face-to-face meetings, and 16% do it frequently. There are applications to improve the management of meetings, such as Brilliant Meeting, which focus on generating discussions and action plans during meetings. The average employee wastes 31 hours each month in inefficient meetings, the total cost of which exceeds 800 billion euros annually.

The greatest danger of multi-tasking is that we can learn to live with it. We’re accustomed to having ten browser tabs open, to looking at our cell phone while we read a document, to answering an e-mail while we’re in a meeting… With these habits, we only make ourselves more tired and lose productivity. Follow the advice of time-management experts and start being more effective.

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