If I've written one story on multitasking, I've written at least 10. In fact, I've penned whole chapters in books, led workshops, and given speeches on the subject -- clearly none of which has helped me beat back this monster to the degree I would like.
In fact, as I'm writing this, I'll admit to having just stopped and checked the email from my accountant that just popped up.
But if you are like most people, you feel my pain. You, like me, have experienced the constant toggling between checking email, texting, and surfing the net -- all while simultaneously binge-watching The Crown season two.
OK, I have gotten better -- much better in fact -- but a recent report that made it into my inbox made me once again pick up the mantle of stopping the multitasking madness.
According to a study at the University of Sussex, constant multitasking actually damages your brain. The study reported that people who regularly multitask have lower brain density in the region of their brain responsible for:
- Empathy--the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
- Cognitive control--mental management that allows information processing and behavior to be adaptive depending on current goals, rather than rigid and inflexible
- Emotional control--this is the conscious (or unconscious) control of emotion or mood. It is a coping mechanism that relies on a proactive mental or behavioral commitment to control emotions.
To quote Scooby Doo, "Rut ro." I don't know about you, but I think leaders need all the empathy and cognitive and emotional control they can get. Losing any capacity in these areas is not the path to greater productivity and employee engagement -- let alone a winning executive brand or presence.
The crazy thing is that ending multitasking is not actually that difficult to do in practice, but rather is more a matter of changing a habit. Here are four new routines you can put in place to beat back multitasking.
1. Become a batch responder
Instead of reacting in the moment to incoming emails, determine specific time periods when you will read and respond to email. These set times might be at the top of each hour or twice a day.
Regardless, the key is to avoid being a "constant responder" (reacting as soon as the email comes in), and instead become a "batch responder" -- meaning that you respond at a designated time to all the messages that have come in.
In this way, you avoid the constant interruption of emails and reduce your online multitasking.
2. Capture your concerns
Put a system in place that lets you capture all incoming to-do's in writing. Instead of feeling pressure to do the item immediately (lest you forget), your brain can relax, secure in the knowledge that you have the item identified and stored.
3. Put yourself in seclusion mode
Have a pressing project you need to finish? When you're facing either a short deadline or work that requires tightly focused attention, one best practice is to isolate yourself. You can do this by:
- Letting your colleagues know you will be unavailable for a certain period of time and will return their emails, calls, etc., afterward
- Physically removing yourself from distractions by going into a room alone, putting a "please do not disturb" sign on the door, and closing it
- Quitting your email program, turning off your phone, and blocking surfing on the net (unless you need it for the project you are working on)
4. Organize some open space
Instead of booking every minute of every workday, leave some open time when you can catch up on anything new that comes in, or process old items that have been hanging around.
Last, if all of this is not enough to inspire you to stop surfing the net and talking on the phone simultaneously, consider a study done at the University of London that found that multitasking had a negative effect on IQ that was close to three times greater than smoking marijuana.
So, please, put down your cell phone, turn off the text, and give your full attention to one thing at a time. Believe me, your brain will thank you.