Multitasking Is Making You Stupid
Always single-task. Doing many things at once isn’t just distracting — it actually takes points off your IQ, scientists say.
Plenty of research says multitasking doesn’t work. In fact, it’s harsh. Multitasking is actually making you stupid. Maybe you don’t agree. Maybe you’re wrong. Try to do two things at once, and you’ll do both half-assed. Focus on one thing at a time. Do that one thing incredibly well, and then move on to whatever is next. And then do that incredibly well.
Multitasking may be ubiquitous in today’s plugged in, multidevice world, but you’ve probably already heard that not everyone thinks just because you can do multiple things at once that you actually should.
Doctors at Harvard, we’ve reported, declared war on the practice when a resident nearly killed a patient after a text message distracted her from updating a prescription. Authors Maggie Jackson and Nicholas Carr have both written books and blog posts about the bad things computer-assisted distraction is doing to our brains.
But even if you’re familiar with the multitasking backlash, a figure unearthed by blogger Eric Barker will probably shock you. He recently read Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, by David Rock, and pulled out a truly horrifying study finding to share in a post. Brace yourself:
“A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of 10 points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common “productivity tools” can make one as dumb as a stoner.”
That means when you’re switching between answering emails and doing important tasks for your business, when it comes to mental function, you’d be better off if you
were stoned. Or, as another quote from the book highlighted by Barker puts it, “when people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an 8-year-old.”
Unfortunately, though scientists may prove multitasking is harmful due to our never-ending desire for the new, our “information inertia,” and our tendency to undervalue our own attention, we’ll never do anything to stop. So stop fretting about it.
“Shifting ingrained habits from multi-tasking to “single-tasking” isn’t an easy thing to do, but it can be helpful if you act as a role model and gain buy-in from the team members,” says Lisa Quast, the author of Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach: A Foolproof Guide to Getting the Job You Want. Every Time.
Here’s how to single-task.
Model the behavior you want to see. Give others your full attention. That’s right. Stop what you’re doing and show respect by focusing on the person or the meeting. At the beginning of meetings, make a little show out of shutting your laptop and laying your mobile phone face down on the table (in silent mode, of course).
Change how meetings are run. Ask your team to create boundaries for meetings, such as laptops closed, no checking cell phones, everyone participates, each person is asked to voice their opinion at the end of a discussion, etc. Ask the group to test the meeting boundaries for a few weeks and then share any changes they noticed (hopefully increased interaction, less stress and more fun!).
Encourage a “be here now” culture. This doesn’t mean you need to hold meditation or yoga sessions in the office. It can be as easy as using this simple technique to encourage mindfulness at the start of meetings: Ask everyone to stop what they’re doing and close their eyes. Have them take a deep breath and hold it for a count of five. Then tell them to slowly release their breath along with all stress and worries. Do this three times.