When was the last time you were distracted?
Maybe you got online to do something else. But, something took too long to load, you saw an interesting link, and a few clicks later, here you are.
I’d venture to say distractions got you here — distraction likely caused by multitasking. But before you get back to whatever you’re supposed to be doing, do you really know how bad multitasking is?
Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I say, There are lies, damned lies, and multitasking.
Multitasking is Worse Than a Lie
I think multitasking is worse than a lie.
Why? At some point, you’ve heard multitasking is ineffective. But has that changed your behaviour? Has it changed the behaviour of people around you?
No! Multitasking is worse than a lie because it’s a cultural norm.
To see what I mean, all you need is a pen, paper, and the timer on your phone. Try this.
Write the sentence: Multitasking is Worse Than a Lie.
Then, write numbers 1-27 underneath it.
How long did that take you?
Now you’re going to do it again to simulate what happens when we try to multitask. For every
letter you write, write a number.
So, first write M. Then, write 1 and so on.
How long did it take you?
Usually, it’s over twice the time.
4 Effects of Multitasking
When we attempt multitasking, we’re really task-switching. Our brains can only handle one active task at a time. So, as we toggle between tasks, four specific areas suffer.
The time a task takes increases when you task-switch. In your typical day, here’s what happens:
You’re working on email in your office when someone interrupts, “I’m sorry. I’ve got a quick question…” You stop and answer their question.
Now, you have to refocus. So you think, “Where was I? What was I typing?” Or if you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder like me, you’ll forget about the email and start on something else. Two hours later, your email is still unfinished.
Either way, when you switch tasks, the time it takes to complete something increases.
Not only does your time investment in a task increase when you multitask, but the quality of work declines. Highly-intelligent people making dumb mistakes is symptom of task-switching, not incompetence.
When you did the exercise above, did you end up with all the right numbers the second time? We practised. I gave you clear instructions. But you still may have messed up because quality suffers when you task-switch.
How did you feel during the exercise the first time verses the second time? When we introduced the method of task-switching, a seemingly simple exercise became much more difficult.
Multitasking raises stress levels. Even with our many timesaving devices and stress-relieving outlets, people today seem to have less time and more stress than people in the past.
The Fourth Effect
Multitasking doesn’t just affect you. It also interferes with your ability to connect to others. Why? Because multitasking communicates something really negative to the other person: that they’re unimportant.
Imagine these scenarios:
You meet your significant other in the morning, look at them and say, “Good morning, you’re unimportant. What are you going to do today?”
You answer the phone at work and say, “Hi. Thanks for calling. You’re unimportant. How can I help you?
Of course you’d never do that literally, but we that’s what we communicate when we task-switch.
Whenever you multitask to another human being, you communicate they’re less important than whatever else you’re doing.
Here’s a quick example of how this played out recently in my life:
I’m a football fanatic. So, for one of the biggest games of the season, we decided to have a party. We cooked food and had lots of friends over for the big game.
In the middle of this, I looked down to see my two-year-old son, holding up a book. He said, “Daddy! Read story?”
It was the middle of the game! Seriously?!
I had four options:
1. Record the game (not an option since friends were there)
2. Say, “Go away, kid!”
3. Multitask! I could read the story while I watched the game and try to go back and forth. But I knew the four effects: It would take longer, decreases the quality, raise my stress, and communicate to my son that he wasn’t as important as the game.
So, I picked a fourth option. I stopped watching the game and read the story to my son.
It only took about three minutes, and during that time, I have no idea what happened in the game. But in that moment, my son knew that I valued him and that he was worth my full, undivided attention. When we finished the story, he wandered off to play, and was able to watch the rest of the game.
You have this opportunity every day — to give people 100% of your attention and communicate that there’s nothing more important than them. And that’s a powerful differentiator in an overly-distracted world.