Are You Wasting 40% of Your Time With Multitasking?

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When was the last time you wrote a resume? I remember, years ago, submitting one with the phrase "hard working, multi-tasking individual" on it. Back in the 80's, perhaps into the 90's, multi-tasking was a "skill" considered a must in the busy corporate environment. Today, research shows us that switching tasks repeatedly leads to "time costs" which can waste up to 40% of your time and productivity.

According to the research behind "Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching" published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, Joshua Rubinstein, Ph.D. and his associates David Meyer, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Evans, Ph.D., determined that for various types of tasks, research subjects lost a great deal of time when they had to switch from one task to another. These "time costs" increased with the complexity of the chores: "It took longer," say researchers Rubinstein and Meyer, "for subjects to switch between more complicated tasks."

Whew, 40%! What could you do with an additional 15-20 hours a week? That's what you could regain if you're a serial multitasker who is able to beat the habit!

When I discuss these facts with clients, they express feeling threatened by the thought of reducing their multitasking tendencies. That's understandable. After all, who's going to answer the phones and check the email, not to mention meet the demands of clients and customers? Well, I believe that you can do it all without sacrificing the integrity of your work and customer service. (This, within reason, of course. If you're doing work that an entrepreneur is better off delegating, see my article on working with a virtual assistant.)

I once read that the human mind is capable of staying intently focused on a single task for up to 2 hours at a time. It's important to take advantage of those 2-hour chunks. Every time you allow a phone call, email, or any outside interference to impose on that time, your brain takes up to 15 minutes to refocus. This stop-and-go technique is akin to taking your foot off and on the gas pedal in your car repeatedly. You never get up to full speed! It takes a lot longer to get to your destination; a two-hour trip turns into a three-hour trip and one-third of your time is wasted!

Breaking the once coveted multitasking habit might be arduous for some, but well worth it. Next week I'll share the non-multitasking techniques that work for many of my clients. Meanwhile, pay special attention to the number of interruptions that you experience on an average day. How often is your 2-hour focus time shattered into pieces?

Last updated: Feb 23, 2009

MARLA TABAKA

Marla Tabaka is a small-business advisor who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She has over 25 years of experience in corporate and start-up ventures and speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness.




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