How often do you hear people talking about how well they can multitask? Employees put it on their résumés. Entrepreneurs brag about it to investors. At one point or another, we’ve all prided ourselves, to one degree or another, on how well we could do five things at once.
But take a moment and think about the times you’ve been proud of your multitasking skills and ask yourself, “Was I really doing my best at every one of those things?” The answer is probably a resounding no, right? Even if you think that you’re a great multitasker, you might want to reconsider, especially after you read a few compelling reasons to focus on one thing at a time.
“MULTITASKING” IS ACTUALLY JUST TASK-SWITCHING
First off, when you think you’re multitasking, you’re actually just task-switching. In other words, as you sit on the phone talking with a client, you might decide to do a little bit of multitasking by reading through recent emails. However, you physically cannot concentrate on both what your client is saying and what’s written on the screen in front of you.
So, instead of giving your client or those emails the attention they deserve, you’re switching back and forth between the two, giving each of them some of your attention at different intervals. So what happens when your client asks you an important question while you’re busy reading a confusing statement from a vendor? Or what if you were too busy paying attention to your client when you accidentally deleted an important message without reading it?
These things are all too likely and all too common because multitasking isn’t really multitasking—it’s task-switching, and it takes much-needed attention away from each task.
YOU’RE NOT AS PRODUCTIVE
You might feel like you’re getting twice as much done in the same amount of time, but that’s actually not the case, either. When you don’t devote your sole attention to projects and tasks, you are more likely to make mistakes. This means that you’re going to have to spend more time going back over them later or dealing with the consequences when you don’t catch a mistake on your own. This eats into your productivity and creates more work for you. Instead, why not just focus on one thing at a time and get it all done right the first time?
PERPETUAL MULTITASKERS HAVE HIGHER STRESS LEVELS
A University of California Irvine study found that when workers have constant access to email (i.e., they’re always switching back and forth between work and checking their email), they had higher heart rates and were constantly on “high alert.” Workers who did not have this kind of access and were allowed to work on one thing at a time were consistently less stressed.
IT HAS A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON CREATIVITY
Finally, as an entrepreneur, you rely on your creativity and problem-solving skills. To come up with great ideas and to think outside the box, you need readily available brain storage (what experts call “working memory”). Well, guess what? Multitasking takes up a lot of that working memory and leaves you with relatively little capacity left over for creative problem solving.
Multitaskers have been proven to have more trouble stepping back and giving their minds the room to come up with new ideas. They have difficulty daydreaming, and they’re often too busy to see the big picture and get a good concept of what needs to be done to improve business, create great company culture, and do all of the other things that entrepreneurs need to do to succeed.
So, before you pick up the phone while you watch a movie, and before you try to answer emails while you talk with an employee or client, try focusing on one thing at a time and see how much more productive, creative, and happy you can be.