Your Favorite Productivity Trick Is Actually Slowing You Down

I bet I know what you’re doing right now. You’re reading this post, singing along to the “Hamilton” soundtrack and composing a text on your phone. If you’re a level 5 multitasker, you may also be chopping up a salad for dinner or running on the treadmill, too. You’re a productivity ninja, right?

Here’s the thing: Even if we think we’re more productive when we’re multitasking, we’re actually not. (Why is there so much olive oil in the salad? Oh, right. Mismeasured while posting an Instagram pic.) This is especially problematic at work. Responding to texts while you’re on a conference call means your mind is working twice as hard — and actually slowing down — as you flip back and forth.

I rounded up some of the latest research on why multitasking is a productivity myth and tips on how to still get all your work done, one task at a time.

Surprise! Only Computers Are Supposed to Multitask

“According to Gary Keller, author of the #1 Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling book, ‘The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results,’ ‘multitasking’ first appeared in the 1960s to describe computers, not people. Computers were becoming so ‘fast’ that a whole new word was needed to describe a computer’s ability to quickly perform many tasks. Originally the term ‘multitasking’ referred to multiple tasks alternately sharing one resource (the CPU). However, the interpretation of multitasking has shifted to mean multiple tasks being done simultaneously by one resource (a person).” —  Read more at HR Cloud.

Can You Hear Me Now? Not If You’re Not Paying Attention

“We’re not being the most productive when we’re half listening to someone while checking our phone, Facebook, and LinkedIn all at once (also, it’s just plain rude).To be a better listener (and get the info you need the first time), face the speaker and look him/her right in the eye, and stay present with the conversation. Who cares if you have 12 unread emails? This person deserves your attention.” —  Read more at Greatist.

Addicted to Multitasking? It’s All in Your Head — Literally

“Serious media multitasking is beginning to be recognized as a neural addiction. Multitasking increases production of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Increased amounts of these hormones overstimulate the brain, causing fuzzy thinking. In addition, the prefrontal cortex prefers external stimulation and rewards reading every post, Internet search or message with a burst of endogenous opioids [an opiate-like substance — like an endorphin — released by the body]. Essentially, this feedback loop rewards the brain for losing focus.” —  Read more at Computerworld.

Multitasking Actually Takes More Time Than Single Tasking

“Think you’re saving yourself more time by working on multiple tasks at once? Not the case! Every time you stop what you’re doing to work on another task, you lose seconds, or even minutes. This may not seem like much, but in reality, it is estimated that multitasking can lead to up to a 40% loss of your productivity per day.” — Read more at Lifehack.

Old-Fashioned To Do Lists Can Keep You on Task, One Task at a Time

“For people like myself, it’s important to take a step back every now and then and think about how slowing down can help you to be better at your job. A good way to manage your work is by creating an old-fashioned to-do list, with all of your tasks organized in order of importance. Sometimes simply writing down a list of all of your goals helps to structure your day, so you can tackle the big stuff before focusing on menial tasks. You can even integrate your to-do list into your calendar app and set reminders to keep yourself on track.” —  Read more at The VAR Guy.

Are you a diehard multitasker? Persuaded to try single-tasking? I’d love to hear the productivity hacks that work for you. Please share in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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