Laura Gordon: Why we shouldn’t think multitasking a badge of honor

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The ability to multitask is also regarded as an art – one that all of us aspire to master.

We all know what it’s like to balance stuff like working life, childcare, pet care, housework, and everything else that comes our way – maybe more than ever this year.

And women are also said to be extremely adept at multitasking, in particular.

A cliché, is that? Not possibly.

A 2003 study compared groups of 120 men and women who skipped back and forth in quick succession between assignments. It noticed that in some situations, the women were quicker and more methodical.

But the study also found that when tasks were tackled one at a time, the outcomes were the same, and that’s a significant finding.

And, regardless of the gender controversy, the fact is that when we monotask, we all do things more efficiently.

It can no longer be considered a badge of honor to be an expert juggler – we need to stop aiming for it and start finding ways to be more successful in monotasking.

This is the way, without a doubt, to get things done well.

A client recently told me, ‘There is a fine line between feeling inspired and feeling nervous while multitasking,’ and he hit the nail on the head. It can be tiring, stress-inducing and counterproductive at times.

There are a variety of studies that affirm this in scientific terms. One of them showed that it’s a real killer of productivity – it decreases productivity by up to 40%.

That’s because we become the jack of all trades when we bounce between so many assignments, but a master of none. We get the job done, but perhaps not as good as we would have if we had really concentrated on the task at hand.

Distractions make us less effective, and regaining our attention takes a while, which gives every job valuable time.

Don’t begin your day with a mammoth to-do list if you’re a daily multitasker. That makes it all too tempting to pick the easy tasks, the low-hanging fruit that can give you a brief rush of gratification before you really have to tackle the tasks you’ve been putting off.

Alternatively, think about what you want to achieve – preferably only two or three key goals – that will indicate a good result for your day. This technique will reduce tension and get you more attention and true satisfaction.

Recall the four Ds. Do, assign, postpone, erase.

Practice what you simply must do. Instead of trying to regulate everything, use the people around you and their abilities. Be pragmatic as to what assignments should wait. And be truthful about which duties are unimportant or unnecessary.

Last but not least, realize when to pause, even if it’s only for a few moments of consciousness. Take a step back if you feel stressed, and maybe even try some breathing exercises. It is incredible how relaxing anything so easy can be.

I’m not saying that you can absolutely eradicate multitasking, because conditions don’t always permit it.

I was busy traveling this week, flying from one job to the next, and forgetting what I was really trying to do occasionally. In reality, I already had to interrupt twice while writing this article to take a call, open the door, and be interrupted by a What’s App group talk. There’s no irony lost on me.

But I strongly believe that it would make a tangible difference not just to our competitiveness, but also to our mental wellbeing and well-being if we change our attitude and look at places where we can realistically monopolize.

Laura Gordon is CEO coach and group chair at Vistage International, a global network for CEO leadership growth.

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