posted on: 8/28/2011 11:47:10 AM EST
Why Multitasking May Make You Less Productive
network marketing, affiliate marketing, home based business, online marleting, social media, mlm

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We’ve all been there before. You’re out having what you think is a nice meal with someone, and then the inevitable happens: the vibration on the table that can’t be ignored. It can be anything from an “urgent” call to a “How R U?” text. Even after your company apologizes for the intrusion, you can’t help but notice his eyeballs always on the phone, checking for that red dot. You might call this behavior rude, but he insists he’s listening and credits his mastery of multitasking.

But in truth, it’s a barrier in the way of our ability to listen and focus, not to mention the onset of new social norms that permit distracted behavior — but that’s a topic for another time. The real question is, in the age of effortless information, are we really multitasking as well as we think we are?

The Mechanics of Multitasking

Multitasking not only hinders productivity but it’s actually difficult to pull off. According to a March 30, 2011, article published in Psychology Today, multitasking (engaging in two tasks simultaneously) is only possible when two conditions are met: First, one of the tasks has to be so ingrained that no focus is necessary, and secondly, they involve different types of brain processing.

The article explains that reading while listening to music without lyrics is possible because “reading comprehension and processing instrumental music engage different parts of the brain.” However, if the music has lyrics, your brain’s ability to retain information significantly decreases because both activities involve the language center of the brain. All of those text messages and emails you read on the side are seriously impacting your ability to successfully (and intelligently) respond and participate in meetings, listen to a client, etc.

Additionally, while all of us celebrate our ability to multitask, it’s really “serial” tasking that we’re doing. In effect, we’re requiring our brain to act like a teenager learning to drive a five-speed: We’re shifting gears quickly and abruptly, and slamming on the brakes in the process. As it sounds, this is not always the best way to get from point A to point B.

There’s Only One Solution: Turn Off the Noise

A few months ago, I was privy to a professional group conversation on LinkedIn, which profoundly asked, “How do we become better listeners?” I watched – one by one – as the responses trickled in. Recommendations included everything from Six Sigma strategies to laundry lists of memory tricks. But in sifting through these tips, it was apparent that the core issue was not being addressed — the original distraction(s) remained.

The only solution? If you need to get things done, turn off all non-essential devices. Unless you’re the president or expecting to deliver a baby, extemporaneous work (or play) does not need to be tended to in real time.

Try stepping away from your cell phone or social media channels for longer periods of time. Let friends and contacts know that you might be out of pocket for a while, but that you will respond to them within the day.

And perhaps most importantly, focus on one task at a time. We live in a culture that trumpets the value of doing many things at once — that multitasking is an asset or strength. As noted above, it only leads to decreased productivity.

Too Much to Take In?

In our race to become gadget gurus, we have become a society of lousy listeners. As real engagement becomes paramount in our business lives, how can we be expected to genuinely connect with everyone all the time? The fact is, we can’t.

So what is to be done? Set ground rules. Establish boundaries. Throughout the day, consciously allocate set amounts of time (whether it’s 5 or 25 minutes) to allow your mind to smoothly and successfully focus and transition from one task to another. These periods should also include dedicated time where you can transition among social networks, news, emails and other forms of communication that require using the same part of your brain.

As human beings, we’re not programmed or wired or built to take in everything, and when we try, we wind up shooting ourselves in the unproductive foot or making critical mistakes that may cost us, our clients or our employers both money and time.

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