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The Myth of Multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking

shutterstock_87844123My focus for this final post on the soft skill of personal management is on multitasking. Multitasking is exactly what it sounds like – trying to do more than one thing at a time. How many times have you heard a colleague proclaim that they are great multitaskers? Many of us claim (or complain about) the ability to handle a “million things” at a time. We listening to a colleague while checking email, working on a document while talking on the phone, attend meetings with our laptops open.  We assume that multitasking leads to better productivity or that it is the best way to maximize our time. Many recent studies into multitasking, however, show that it is not after all the great solution to 21st-century, high tech living, but in fact, people who multitask have been shown to take 30%-40% longer to complete tasks. A recent study documented in INC Magazine (http://www.inc.com/larry-kim/why-multi-tasking-is-killing-your-brain.html) from the University of London actually suggests that multitasking is damaging the brain. Another research study from Stanford University (http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/august24/multitask-research-study-082409.html) demonstrated how multitaskers consistently underperformed others who took on projects one at a time, disproving the myth that multitasking was a good thing.

The biggest instigator of multitasking mayhem? Our inboxes

As INC points out, “The biggest instigator of multitasking mayhem? Our inboxes. Some studies have shown that even the opportunity to multitask, such as knowledge of an unread email in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points! …A McKinsey Global Institute Study found that employees spend 28 percent of their workweek checking emails.”

So what can we do?

  • Turn off email notifications
  • Set your email to check for new messages at set times rather than constant refreshing
  • Mute cell phones
  • As I noted in previous posts – create to do lists for the day and stick to them
    • Complete one task before you move onto the next
  • Block in times on your schedule to answer voice messages, answer emails, and check social media of all kinds

Multitasking is a significant part of personal and time management. Managing it adds another dimension to improving your overall soft skills


This is the twelfth in a series of posts exploring Soft Skills and why they are so important to your success in any endeavour.


John Whitehead, MA, CEC, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

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