Multitasking Is Rubbish

I'm supposed to be good at this stuff, yet it's amazing how many times I'm guilty of failing to eat my own dog food. In fact, I wouldn't be offended if you said that I can be a real idiot at times when it comes to being productive. 

Hey, at least I can admit it and recognise where I've fallen down I guess! 

Just this morning, I fell under the "I can multitask" bus and this is how. (Hands up if you've done the same....)

I'm sat in an office with one other person, dialling into a conference call via Skype For Business. It's a call that doesn't need my attention for the entire forty-five minute duration, so I make the usual pleasantries at the beginning, mute the microphone and use this as an opportunity to process my email from the previous day. 


In fact, count the 'productivity' mistakes through this sad tale as you read. 

I've got one ear listening to the content of the call whilst I'm looking at an important email that is going to take some serious troubleshooting over the course of the day. I'm reading through, and for some reason, I think I'll concentrate on the email a little easier if I take one of my earphones out and reduce the volume of the call I'm participating (!) in. 

My office mate then sees the removal of the earphone as a sign to ask a question he's been keen to ask for days. Being a quintessentially polite Brit, I have difficulty saying that I should concentrate on the call I'm on (as well as the important email I'm trying to process) and so I engage. 

We chat for a couple of minutes until I hear a voice in my ear.

"Lee, did you catch that? I think you're on Mute". 

Naturally, I have no idea what was asked, and so I abruptly cut off my office mate, apologise to the conference call lead for the network issues I just encountered (!) and ask them to repeat the question, wasting the time of everyone on that call while the events I missed are recanted. 

So I now have a call that is being extended unnecessarily, an email that is no further through being processed yet is now in the back of my mind due to its importance, tugging away at my attention like a puppy playfully trying to free a toy from the hands of it's owner, as well as a colleague who feels awkward having been cut off mid-sentence while I deal with something that is clearly 'more important'. 

All in the name of trying to do more than one thing at once. 

The brain is not designed to multi thread, like a modern day CPU. Multitasking is simply a myth. When you try and work on more than one thing at a time, all you end up doing is switching your attention multiple times - and all of that attention-switching takes energy as well as time. Each time you shift from watching TV to writing a text, to checking your Twitter timeline - your brain is initiating a stop/start process each time. It's fast, it's rapid and it can give the illusion that you are doing more than one thing at once, but have you ever been listening to a podcast whilst checking Twitter and found that you'd missed something that was said? Of course you did! You weren't listening whilst reading, you were listening then reading - your brain was switching rapidly between one task and the other. 

 Was I able to complete any of those tasks earlier to the best of my ability? Not a chance. Yet the example I've given above is repeated by people in both the workplace and domestically time and time again. Myself included! Admittedly, this morning was a rare occurrence and I'm usually highly focused and able to work on items singularly without an issue. This morning I just - fell off. I thought I could do it and was pleased, in the end, to see that I couldn't and the theorising we read about multitasking is indeed true. 

There is a great test you can do at the following site that tests this theory - I urge you to try it out.