Multitasking is an illusion that kills your productivity

Multitasking is an illusion that kills your productivityWandering mind = empty office chair
06.08.2020

Living with technology at our desks and in our pockets has caused us to think that we are capable of running multiple ‘apps’ in the background as our computers do. Sadly this is not the case with the human mind. Therefore multitasking has had an adverse effect on all working environments. Working from our homes and remotely has proved that multitasking effectively is a mission impossible, where only very few can succeed. And there is data to prove that.

David Strayer, Director of the Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Utah, who studies multitasking in the fertile realm of distracted driving, found that 98% percent of people can't multitask. As only 2% of people are actually able to multitask effectively, it is safe to assume that multitasking is actually doing more harm than good to most of us. 

The need to work from home or remote locations and take full personal responsibility has not made it easier. Studies show that on average, smartphone owners unlock their phones 150 times a day. Even when people have a lot to do, it doesn’t stop them from finding time to be distracted every 10.5 minutes. This means that an average person will probably lose around 2.1 hours per working day through distractions or interruptions. This adds up to 546 hours of lost productivity per employee, per year. Now calculate your hourly rate and multiply this with 546 hours and you get the actual loss in your case.

What does this mean for employers? Is there anything that can be done besides banning smartphones, wearable devices or restricting access to the Internet (that now is an unreal option as you need to communicate with people who work from their homes)?

We see the problem has never been modern technology, but it is within our own skills. Using the tech in the wrong way is not a problem of technology, it is a problem of the user incompetence. It is a problem that originates in a total lack of intrapersonal education as we have not had and still do not have mental fitness lessons in our schools. Lack of education on how to deal with our inner processes leads to lack of focus and causes stress, anxiousness leads to low efficiency and unproductiveness. 

If we could see an empty chair in the office every time a person's mind wanders, our offices would often as empty as during the pandemic. But instead, there is presenteeism, physical bodies sit there but minds wander around. And yes, presenteeism can even take place when you are not in the office. Your body is behind your computer in your home, but your mind wanders around without a focus.

When your coffee gets cold while you browse social media or work, you fail to multitask.

Smartphones, social media, and Zoom and Skype calls can be efficient tools or total distractions. The difference is not 'out there' but within your own intrapersonal skills. Either you know how to keep your focus or you do not.

We know that training of awareness based intrapersonal skills has the potential to combat the lack of employee focus and engagement and we have designed training that can solve this problem for you and your team. This e-training is called ‘Getting Things Done’.

 

An untrained mind is a wandering Mind

The problem is that our awareness often is untrained and falls to the strongest or newest stimuli. A study by Killingsworth & Gilbert, A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind 2010, found that almost 50% of the time our mind wanders. This shows that we do not lead our own attention or awareness by our own will. We aren’t interrupted only by the physical objects and situations around us (for example: background noise that appears while we work, new e-mail notification on our screen, someone talking on the phone next to us, etc.), but also by our own thoughts and feelings. In fact, our own internal processes are often bigger obstacles to keeping our focus than external situations ever are. During those inner interruptions, we seem to be present, but in reality, we are not. We are lost in our own inner processes that are not at all related to the task at hand.

When we learn to know in practice what our awareness is we can learn to master our awareness. Our awareness is a useful inner tool that enables us to come in contact with any object at will. Such objects include everything around us that we can see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. While we understand that our own physical body is also in that an object that we can observe, we often fail to see that our own emotions and thoughts are also such objects that we should notice and influence.

Continuous partial attention as reducer or productivity

We mostly do not dedicate ourselves 100% and are superficial on most things we do. We are so used to it that we let this happen continuously, that is why it is called continuous partial attention.

Until we are not able to choose to dedicate 100% of our awareness on any one particular thing, we potentially miss out on many important details. This could be a set of instructions given to you or details regarding an important project at work. If you are not fully there and dedicating your awareness to the task at hand then you are probably not impeccable at what you do.

Freedom to stay focused on a single task or object enables you to boost the quality of your work. Excellent focusing means keeping your focus on something regardless of the situation around you. Your own ability to hold focus is demanded more and more during the current era of hyper-connectivity or working from home or any remote location. 

Human disability to hold focus is the main reason why entrepreneurs see that automation is more efficient than human work – algorithms and robots are not distracted, they just do the same thing over and over again. While algorithms and robots are good at routine work, we still need humans for creative and innovative work and for the human connection where it plays an important role, like all customer service related jobs. 

Knowing how to Focus is a Win-Win situation

There are a lot of myths around the human ability to multitask, however, the scientific evidence has now repeatedly revealed that constant multitasking is severely counterproductive.

It has been found to increase the number of mistakes by half, lead to a decrease in quality of work and increases subjective stress and energy loss. Dr. G. Mark from the University of California demonstrated that when interrupted, on average it takes 23 minutes for us to refocus and also this study confirmed that 45% of the time distractions occur by self-interruption via internal factors.

When we are distracted internally our mind wanders and then it becomes easy to take the closest thing to us as the next distraction. And that closest thing often just happens to be a smartphone in our pocket or an Internet browser on our computer desktop. If we 'get lost in it' for 10 minutes and then try to refocus, we have potentially lost already almost half-hour of our work time for something else than achieving work results. 

Knowing how to focus matters a lot on all open office environments. 

There is plenty of research out there that has made a compelling case for the need to increase employee efficiency by introducing awareness-based training programs that could help employees to better hold their focus.

By training your employees on awareness-based intrapersonal skills, you can see increased efficiency. When your staff has the ability to focus easily at will and then stay focused as long as they need you have found a practical approach to securing their continuous flow of work. Be it at home or in the office or out there in the field solving difficult situations. 

Once people notice where their awareness is, they find it easier to distinguish the important tasks from unimportant ones. Awareness and intrapersonal skills provide the practical skills on how to solve one problem at the time with much greater efficiency, as opposed to multitasking. Sticking to one task at the time actually improves productivity and quality of work. 

Provided that leaders also include their staff in understanding the bigger picture behind their individual tasks, being more focused will also improve overall engagement as your team members know how their individual work influences others and the whole company. 

Awareness-based intrapersonal skills are most overlooked in today’s work environment. Training your intrapersonal skills allows better endurance in all kinds of stressful situations and builds a solid path to mental wellness. People with good intrapersonal skills are not so prone to burnout and depression and are less susceptible to common illnesses, resulting in less sick related work absence. As this sounds like a win-win situation, what are you waiting for? 
 

Buy the e-training 'Getting Things Done'
 

This blog post is written by Kaur Lass