Multi-tasking is not a skill: How it’s slowing career growth for MillennialsNovember 17, 2016 by Matt Krumrie
Multi-tasking seems like a great idea in concept. And many recent college grads and Millennials see multi-tasking a skill employers covet. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who can complete many tasks at once, right? After all, Millennials are the best-educated generation in America’s history – surely their brains can handle killing two birds with one stone. Nope! In reality, multi-tasking is like playing guitar while making spaghetti. Both outcomes are going to be disastrous, and one stands a much better chance at nailing that solo and impressing a dinner date if they would just tackle one task at a time.
That’s the message from Chris Butsch, author of The Millennial’s Guide to Making Happiness, a positive psychology book for young people driven by humor, science, and stories from Millennials around the world.
“There’s overwhelming evidence that our brain doesn’t like to multi-task,” says Butsch.
Butsch explains further:
“First off, our brains, like our laptops, have a limited amount of processing power. When we open too many programs at once, the whole system slows down, and each individual task takes much longer to process.”
He continues: “Researchers estimate that when we multi-task, our IQ drops by 15 points and our productivity drops by 40%. That doesn’t mean that we’re doing two tasks at 60% and 2 x 60 = 120%; it means that two, 1 hour-long tasks will take three hours and 20 minutes if done at the same time, and the quality of both outcomes will be significantly worse.
Second, the brain rewards us for focusing on a single activity by building up to the most powerful natural high we can achieve. Intense focus + time releases a neural cocktail of seratonin, endorphins, noradrenaline, anandamide, and dopamine, which combine to create the euphoric “flow” effect, AKA “getting in the zone.” In a state of flow we learn up to five times faster and are up to seven times more creative, not even accounting for the jolt in joy and performance we experience. It’s the closest thing we have to becoming Superman, but if we multi-task, we’ll never rise higher than a stressed-out Clark Kent.
Lastly, if we multi-task in a social situation, such as checking our emails at lunch with friends, we’re actually making those around us like us less. A 2014 study by Essex University found that we think “significantly less positively” of people who pull their phones out in social situations, even if they’re not using them.”
So why do we feel compelled to multi-task if our brains hate it so much? Well, we process around 100x as much information per day as our great grandparents, so it’s only natural that we try and boost our productivity. Plus, in the modern workplace, distractions hit us like a hailstorm and choosing priorities can be a challenge. So…
“The best way to fight the urge to constantly multi-task is to tackle one task at a time,” says Butsch.
Do this by keeping a notebook to keep track of those little tasks that pop up throughout the day, and organize all tasks taking fewer than five minutes into a separate to-do list. Then, to feel a productive jolt in the morning, blast through those 5-minute tasks.
Technology – social media, email and addictions to that technology, are often the biggest reasons Millennials feel the need to multi-task.
“Often, too many distractions – like a constant text or email notification – break concentration, which requires more time to refocus, come back to the task, find where you left off, and try to recreate your thought process,” says Shanon Lazarus Webster, an Attorney who also serves as the Marketing and Business Development Manager for Kelley Kronenberg, full-service business law firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “By focusing on one task at a time, you will become more engaged in the people and activities around you. When there is nothing else competing for your attention, you are more creative, persistent and productive.”
Instead of trying to accomplish many things at once, focus on one activity at a time to see an increase in productivity, like this, says Lazarus Webster.
- If you are on the phone, simply focus on talking and listening on the call – don’t respond to that email in your inbox.
- If you’re in a meeting, focus on nothing else but the meeting don’t look at social media.
Getting into a productive morning routine can help steer individuals away from becoming unproductive multi-taskers. Consider these tips, says Lazarus Webster:
- Start the morning by creating a list (usually 5-7) of the top people you need to email and/or the top tasks you need to complete that particular day.
- Start your day with the goal of completing the list by prioritizing assignments and then work your way through. For instance, “I aim to complete my list by mid-morning, as it is my most productive time of day.” That leaves the remainder of the day open to handle and overcome the inevitable meetings, conference calls, emails and project deadlines that challenge productivity.
A lower quality of work is one sure sign multi-tasking is sapping productivity. Whether it is careless mistakes, sloppy writing, unanswered comments, unreturned phone calls, forgetting to respond to emails or include attachments, or failing to recall assignments – those are all signs of too much multitasking. If one is working on a project or assignment, and is constantly interrupted by clients, phone calls, texts, or coworkers, it’s likely one will forget relevant details required to finish the task.
“Multitasking reduces the efficiency and quality of our work – too much simultaneous information inundates the brain and negatively affects memory,” says Lazarus Webster.
Multi-tasking is not a skill employers covet. And it’s not something that will set recent college grads and Millennials apart at work, in an interview, or in their career. In fact, it will make one’s day more stressful and less productive. Think about that the next time you try to accomplish multiple things at one time.
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