Many of us, particularly women, pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task.
If you work in a busy environment no doubt you don’t have the luxury of doing just one thing at a time. In your busy workday you’re likely to find yourself responding to urgent emails at the same time as you’re tuned in to a webinar and sorting the clutter on your desk. No doubt the ability to multi-task is well regarded – but the question is:
Is someone who does one task at a time less productive than someone who can multi-task?
Surprisingly, research has shown that when we multi-task, the brain is rapidly toggling back and forth between activities. For the most part our brains can’t really perform two or more tasks simultaneously. Yes, there are definitely some activities, such as walking, that we perform on auto-pilot. We can definitely talk on our mobile phone as we walk. However, if you are trying to drive your car, you’d best put your mobile phone conversation on hold until you arrive safely at your destination.
The human brain cannot transition seamlessly from one job to the next without missing a beat. When we multi-task the brain switches and re-adjusts as it toggles back and forth from one task to the other. Valuable time is lost during that period of transition.
Psychologists call the time lost as we transition from one task to another, “the switching cost”.
In fact, in 2003, a study conducted by the International Journal of Information Management, found that when a person checks email once every five minutes, on average, it takes 64 seconds to transition back to the previous task. So if, for example, you are one of those people who constantly check your email, that very process of multi-tasking between email and other work wastes one out of every six minutes.