Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Before you Multi-Task – Consider What Brain Science Has to Offer

As an author of several human resource books, I’m often asked about strategies for effective time-management. Some people have more on their plate than is humanly possible to accomplish and while it may be possible to get rid of a few time-wasters and do some tasks more efficiently, this will not likely solve their “time management” problem. Most of these folks proudly announce that they are masterful at multi-tasking, a strategy that evolves as a survival skill in work environments that impose excessive workloads.

I’ve never been a fan of multi-tasking although I confess to having used it for many years when there were not enough hours in the day to get everything done. I once tried an exercise recommended in a book I was reading. For one hour I was to do only one thing at a time. Not as easy as it seemed, I soon discovered. I found that I was intellectually and physically incapable of doing only one thing at a time. I had become a multi-tasking junkie. I seemed not to be deciding to multi-task, it had become automatic and habitual. Try that exercise for just an hour and see how you do! Send me a note to [email protected] with your experience!

Contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking does not improve our productivity. Dr. David Meyer, Director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan says, "When you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you're going to have to pick and choose which task you're going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it."

Writing in Entrepreneur Magazine (December 2012), Joe Robinson notes that “Counter to common belief, you can't do two cognitively complicated tasks at once … when you're on the phone and writing an e-mail at the same time, you're actually switching back and forth between them, since there's only one mental and neural channel through which language flows.” In fact he says, “The conflicts triggered by incessant multitasking can set off chronic stress and slow you down, shredding productivity … Trying to complete two or more tasks at once can take 50 percent more time or longer, depending on the complexity of the tasks.”
So, you shouldn’t text and drive and you also shouldn’t open emails while you are talking on the telephone. Productivity and time management are improved when you allow your brain to focus on one thing at a time. Try it, you may just find yourself less stressed and that you get more done!

Paula J. MacLean is the best-selling author of 5 books on human resource management and nonprofit boards of directors. She is currently at work on a sixth book entitled: “Following the Leader: Executive Succession for Your Nonprofit”, scheduled for release in the Fall of 2013.

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