The Biggest Productivity Lie

24 June 2014

When you end the day, do you ask yourself, “Where did the time go?” Even when you have a list written out clearly, with all the things you need to do, somehow you end up unable to complete all those really important tasks.

You sit down the next morning and wonder how you’re going to get through it all. Then your team members asks you for a minute. Then you’ve got an email coming in. Are you multitasking to be “more efficient”?

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Prefer to read rather than watch and listen? No problem – here’s everything I said in the video as text:

What I want to talk about today is multitasking. I was sitting down with one of my clients recently and we were going through a job description for an Admin Manager and I noticed that he mentioned “multitasking” as an important attribute. Now, this isn’t uncommon in business owners and their businesses, where they expect their team members, as well as themselves, to constantly try to multitask at any given time.

In fact, it’s pretty much possible that while you are listening to this video you are also trying to check your emails, you are maybe looking at some business papers or gesturing to your team members because maybe you believe that multitasking is the way to be more efficient and more effective. You just want to achieve a lot more in a given time, right?

Multitasking is a Lie

Now straight to the point: Multitasking is a lie. In fact, it’s just an opportunity to screw up more than 1 thing at a given time. And I didn’t say that, Steve Uzzell says that and I completely believe, I completely agree with this concept – it’s just 1 of the ways to be more inefficient and not efficient.

Not Meant for Human Beings

In fact, you won’t believe that multitasking was not even a word meant for human beings. In the 1920s, around that time, psychologists were studying human beings and their capability, our capability of doing more things in a given time. But the word ‘multitasking’ actually came on the scene in around 1960s. That was the time when 10 MHz computer speed was absolutely mind-boggling and the word was for devised, not for human beings but for computers.

And the literal meaning of that concept of that word was actually multiple tasks alternately being processed by one resource and that resource was the CPU. Then the context flipped, it all changed and multitasking started being used for human beings and what it really meant was multiple tasks being done simultaneously by one resource which is the person.

Human Brains CAN Do Multiple Things At the Same Time

Now what you need to understand and really internalise is our human brains, our brains can actually do multiple things at a given time, can do things at a given time – we can walk and we can chew gum, we can watch telly and iron our clothes, whatever. But our brains are not designed to actually focus on 2 things at a given time. It has to switch back and forth to pay attention to that 1 thing at 1 time.

But What Does This Matter in Reality?

What is the implication of this way of working for the effectiveness in our day-to-day business life? Think about it like this – so you come into your office and you decide that this is task A is the most important thing that you need to be doing at this time. So you start at a point and you focus on that task A and say around 30 minutes later you’ll finish that task A. This is the focused approach – no interruptions, no distractions. You just focus on 1 thing and you get it done.

Now think of a very distracted scenario in your office – you start task A and you get about a quarter of the way through. All of sudden there’s a distraction: somebody knocks on your door and says, “Boss can I have a minute with you?” Now your mind has to switch, it has to reorient for that distraction, then you will spend some time on that distraction, your brain has to again switch and reorient for the task A and maybe after another hour or so you will actually complete the task. What should have taken you 30 minutes, has taken you more than an hour. And what researchers in proper studies have found out – is that in this unfocused approach, the extra time spent on the task genuinely goes up by 25% for simpler tasks and for more complex tasks sometimes it goes beyond 100%.

So Ask Yourself, Should You Multitask?

And you need to, therefore, think about when you finish the day, do you ask, “Where did the time go?” Do you ask yourself the questions, “Did I actually manage to achieve the things that I had to achieve today?” “Did I do them?” and the answer is “No,” then you need to go back and ask yourself, are you really trying to multitask because you think that’s the way to be more efficient? Because let me remind you multitasking is a lie. It doesn’t help you become efficient, it is a way of inefficiency.

I just want to leave you with this question: as a business owner when you decide that this is the most important thing at this particular time then why would you choose to do something else along with that most important thing at that given time?

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