Why Multi-Tasking Is Bad For You And Here Is Why
March 10, 2016
We work in an industry with a vast array of specialist roles expected to not only work across functions but drive many projects forward at the same time. From R & D to commercial, Regulatory Affairs through to Market Access and many more, it’s hard to imagine an industry that requires employees to multi-task more than Life Sciences. Is our ability to keep many plates spinning at the same time productive?
A tide of new evidence shows us that constant multi-tasking makes us significantly less efficient, reduces our IQ short-term and leads to poor decision-making. The effects of multi-tasking have even been labelled ‘profoundly negative.’
In fact, there’s an adage floating around that ‘“Multitasking means screwing up several things at once.”
So, how does multi-tasking undermine our efficiency? And, more importantly, how do we organise ourselves so that the negative impacts of multi-tasking are lessened? After all, we need to be realistic about this: you will always need to swap between tasks regularly whether you are a Commercial Director or a Global Projects Manager, you need to learn how to do it better.
1. Multi-tasking is a myth.
The problem lies in part with our long-standing belief that we are actually able to do lots of things at once – and that if we can, it shows we are more competent than those who focus just on one thing at a time. Yet we’re not multi-tasking at all: what we have thought of as doing lots of things simultaneously is actually switching tasks repeatedly: and the bad news is that our brain takes time to warm up to each new task, thereby losing time overall. Studies show that up to 40% of productive time is wasted when people switch between tasks. For example in a research context, when everybody is trying to multi-task and become less productive as a result, delays increase and cascade.
2. Multi-tasking leads to poor decision-making.
Heavy multi-tasking has been proven to increase the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to bad decision making and difficulty concentrating. In the Life Science market, bad decisions can potentially cost money, time and lives.
3. Constantly multi-tasking make us ‘dumber’.
It’s been proven that when we learn something new when we’re multi-tasking and therefore distracted, the new information goes to the wrong part of the brain. In studies where students tried to study while also watching TV, the information they learn is sent to the striatum rather than the hippocampus, inhibiting their ability to learn and recall properly.
4. Your ability to problem-solve is compromised.
Creative thinking is vital to the development process, to work around problems and come up with novel solutions. Multi-tasking has been proven to reduce your ability to be creative.
5. Constant checking of emails drops your IQ short-term.
The distraction power of emails is so great on our concentration that even knowing that an email is sitting there unopened has been shown to lower our IQ short-term by 10 points. Receiving a barrage of emails on your phone while working is distracting you from the tasks at hand.
Tips to improve multi-tasking effectiveness
a. Above all, if you can possibly finish a task now, FINISH IT NOW. You will then be able to move onto the next task clear-headed and your work will often be of higher quality because you didn’t lose momentum.
b. Leaders should therefore break up big tasks into their smallest possible components- this gives your workforce frequent opportunities to move onto other necessary tasks with a clear head-and if something goes wrong then there is greater flexibility in the work plan. It also motivates team members to work quicker to complete tasks.
c. Within reason, avoid working on more than one task in a set period, unless there is ‘dead time’ built into that task that can be used on another one. When you do have some ‘dead time’ to fill as often happens, pick small tasks that can be finished in the time, in order not to have a series of half-finished tasks backing up and losing further momentum as you scurry between them.
d. Find a strategy to deal with your emails, perhaps looking at them in blocks of time. If your role allows it, go so far as putting an auto reply on your emails saying something along the lines of: ‘Is it urgent? Please call me. If not, I will read all emails at 8am, midday and 4pm and respond as soon as possible. This is part of a policy to increase productivity at ‘Acme Diagnostics.’
e. Be aware that your decision-making powers aren’t at their best when multi-tasking, and avoid making split-second decisions unless absolutely necessary. Give yourself several minutes for your brain to ‘warm up’ and properly consider the issue.
f. Invest in good project management software when required.
Multi-tasking is increasingly viewed as a terrible waste of time and energy, both at the individual and organisational level. While some degree of ‘task-switching’ is inevitable, particularly in the Life Science Industry, productivity will increase enormously if you make a concerted effort to concentrate on one task at a time.
Start increasing your productivity today and stop multi-tasking.