Multi-tasking has taken on somewhat of a positive connotation in today's working world. Employers are always looking for competent multi-taskers, and people tend to think that by multi-tasking, they can be more efficient at work. However, the truth is that multi-tasking isn't necessarily an ability for which we should strive to excel at. In fact, multi-tasking can actually cause us to get LESS work done. This is nothing new, at some point we've all heard that multi-tasking is counterproductive, yet for some reason, it's often still viewed as a positive trait. Why is that? Probably because in today's world, it's harder to NOT multi-task than it is to multi-task.
Multi-tasking: doing many tasks poorly, instead of one task perfectly
Think about it. With email and mobile apps for software programs‚ like Salesforce, for example‚ available at our fingertips, it's hard to truly get away from work. Imagine you're out to dinner with your family after work. You get a notification on your smartphone from the Salesforce app informing you that your prospect has finally responded to the proposal you sent them last week. What do you do? Most of us will probably swipe the notification to read what the prospect said about the proposal. It's just too easy not to!
This is a prime example of multi-tasking‚ you're doing two things at once. Enjoying a night out to dinner with your family and working a proposal. While you might think you're being productive, you're actually not. While you're swiping to read more of what your prospect said, you might have missed a comment from your daughter about her day at school. Or maybe you accidentally skipped over an important sentence in the proposal notification because your spouse said something funny that distracted you.
Either way, you likely missed out on important details from one or both because you weren't giving your undivided attention to either task. There is no going back to get a full picture of what happened in that moment because the moment is gone.
Multi-tasking can be potentially damaging. For example, if you decide to immediately reply to your client regarding the proposal notification, the sentence you missed while reading could dramatically change the reply you would've sent if you hadn't missed a piece of the message. And we are all familiar with the potential negative ramifications of a mistaken reply!
How to resist the urge to multi-task
So, how can we prevent multi-tasking from interfering with our undivided attention? First, we need to recognize that multi-tasking actually does us more harm than good. Instead of acting upon your urge to swipe that notification you receive at dinner, wait until dinner is over and respond once you have time to focus only on that notification. Your client will thank you, and so will your family!
Another strategy you can get started with today is to take less notes during meetings and pay more attention to what's going on in the room. While note-taking may make you feel like you're capturing every detail of the meeting, you're likely missing out on non-verbal cues which can say much more than the words spoken. Yes, if something extremely important is said, jot it down quickly. But after you make your note, put your pen down and refocus your attention on the meeting.
Multi-tasking does us more harm than good. If our goal is to be more productive and successful, we need to continually practice resisting the urge to multi-task until multi-tasking is no longer our second nature.