Why Multitasking Destroys Your Productivity

multi-taskingMost entrepreneurs I know are proud of their “multitasking” ability.

According to Wikipedia, “Human multitasking is the performance by an individual of appearing to handle more than one task at the same time.”  The keyword that multitasking a myth is: “appearing.” 

The term originated with computer multitasking – a CPU solves problems by scheduling tasks and switching from task to task until each task gets its turn.

The activity of switching back-and-forth may be a computer-friendly activity, but it’s anything but human-friendly when it comes to an entrepreneur’s personal productivity in the office or home!

Dave Crenshaw wrote my favorite book on the topic and I recommend it to any entrepreneur who still thinks and feels that multitasking is cool.

On page 29 in The Myth of Multitasking, Dave writes:

“Around the end of the twentieth century, some wordsmith saw the connection between our increasingly hectic world and the world of the computer.  A catchword was born.

Newspapers began peppering their articles with the word. Talk shows hosts began using it with frequency. Magazines began publishing articles about how to multitask more effectively.

Multitasking quickly became as popular and accepted as the automobile and the hamburger.”

Multitasking is not really conducting two or more (“multi”) activities (“tasking”) simultaneously; rather, it’s more accurately switching between those task, or switchtasking as Dave Crenshaw puts it.

Heck, even top jugglers are switchtaskers at heart because they can only touch one ball at a time.

Multitasking or switchtasking reduces your efficiency (doing things right) and effectiveness (doing the right things) because it constantly switches your mental focus.

As your concentration diminishes during the switch-over time (less than a second in most cases) the number of errors and mistakes you make dramatically increases.

In fact, many states such as California have outlawed multitasking on the highway by making it an illegal to speak on handheld mobile phone while driving a car.

“A mere half second of time lost to task switching can mean the difference between life and death for a driver using a cell phone, because during the time that the car is not totally under control, it can travel far enough to crash into obstacles the driver might have otherwise avoided,” reports Dr. David Meyer from the University of Michigan.

His findings aren’t very surprising in the over-communicated world we live in these days.  But what is astounding to me is that Dr. Meyer published his findings way back in the August, 2001!

Okay, so let me ask you a candid question.  How many of these 7 common multitasking activities do you engage in?

  • Writing emails while speaking on the telephone
  • Instant messaging while conducting teleseminars
  • Checking voice mail while speaking to your spouse
  • Reading the newspaper while listening to the news
  • Watching TV while having a family conversation
  • Driving your car while talking on your cell phone
  • Tweeting while emailing while IMing while

If you’re like most entrepreneurs I know, you’ve done “all of the above” at some point in your adult life.  But my point isn’t to nag you about multitasking as it is to make you conscious of how destructive it can be for your future.

The fundamental problem of multitasking is not about doing the tasks.  It is about the splintered attention you tend to experience as you think about doing the tasks.  Your results become mediocre at best.

Stacking vs. Multitasking: Now what if you could do two things at once, but only kept the majority of your attention on ONE thing, that’s a good thing.  I call that stacking and Dave Crenshaw calls it background tasking.

You can call it whatever you wish, but it is a productive use of time doing multiple things because only ONE of the tasks you’re doing requires mental effort. Stacking helps you to get more done, faster, better and with less mental effort.

Here are a few stacking activities that boost your efficiency:

  • Eating dinner while watching TV
  • Jogging while listening to your iPod
  • Driving while listening to the radio
  • Writing email while printing a letter
  • Eating a snack while riding a bicycle
  • Listening to the news while showing
  • Reading a book while getting a haircut

Stacking doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll become more effective (doing the right things), but it can practically guarantee more efficiency (doing things right) for greater productivity, which is maximum results in minimum time.

Stacking & America’s Middle-Class: Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but he did produce automobiles within the economic reach of the average American.

Many historians and economics credit Ford helping suburbs grow and even creating the Middle Class in America.  I believe he did this by preventing his workers from multitasking.

Ford’s ability to produce affordable automobiles was through the development of assembly lines that increased the efficiency of car manufacturing while decreasing costs.  Ford did not invent the assembly line, he simply improved it.

Prior to the introduction of the assembly line, cars were individually crafted by teams of skilled workmen which was a very slow and expensive process. This is classic multitasking during the Industrial Age.

Ford’s assembly line reversed the process of car manufacturing.  Instead of forcing his workers to multitask and go to each car individually, he created a stacking environment in which the cars came to the workers who performed the same task of assembly again and again.

The stacking power of the assembly line made it possible to reduce the manufacturing time of a Model T from thirteen hours to less than six hours!

Here’s what resulted:  When Model T made its debut in 1908, it was offered at a purchase price of $825. Four years later the price dropped to $575.  By 1914, Ford claimed a 48% share of the world’s automobile market!

It’s All About WHEN: The next time when you catch yourself multitasking, stop what you’re doing, take a quick pause and focus on completing ONE activity before you decide to switch tasks. A lack of completion is really what makes multitasking such a destructive force.

You not only become more mentally stressed by splintering your attention on two or more activities at the same time (and make more  mistakes along the way), you also have to deal with the guilt of  incompletion!

When you favor stacking over multitasking your daily activities, you almost instantly become more efficient, more effective and you start feeling better about yourself for getting the job done with a great sense of focus.

What To Do Now: You can stop the insanity of multitasking right now by listing (in the Comments Section of this blog post) 2 to 3 multitasking activities you commonly engage in at work or at home.

If none come to mind, just grab your mouse and scroll-up and re-read the 7 common multitasking activities I listed earlier.

The next time you find yourself multitasking, take a moment to think about what you’re doing and then quickly decide which task you want to complete first and complete that one.

Remember:  Sloppy success with a single task is far superior than perfect mediocrity with multiple tasks.


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