Multitasking malfunction

From ex-girlfriends to meerkats, internet overload can put a serious dent in your productivity, even while it makes you feel good.

I am a champion multi-tasker. I pride myself on my ability to write an email, post something on social media, design something for our next conference, answer my phone, eat a sandwich, and write an editorial. But am I really accomplishing more than I would if I just worked methodically through each task until completion? Is my “ability” to multi-task really such a great asset, or am I just looking for an excuse for my inability to truly focus?

To some extent, multitasking is necessary in today’s work environment, especially in the AEC industry. You need to be able to look at a project/design/report, respond to emails, research alternatives, focus on a budget, respond to requests, answer questions from coworkers, and much more, almost simultaneously. But this process has its disadvantages, too. Technology has made it easier than ever to focus on more things at once, but it also introduces a lot of unnecessary and unproductive distractions.

Research shows that people who multitask are not accomplishing more than people who focus on just one thing at a time. In fact, the brain isn’t focusing on a lot of things at once, but rather switching quickly from task to task.

Multitasking is addictive. Researcher Zhen Wang, lead author of a study on multitasking and an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, says, “[People who multitask] are not being more productive – they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.”

Wang’s research suggests that people get used to multitasking, which makes them more likely to continue.

“We found what we call a dynamical feedback loop,” she says. “If you multitask today, you’re likely to do so again tomorrow, further strengthening the behavior over time.”

This multitasking addiction not only makes you feel less satisfied from working on only one thing at a time, but also makes you less productive.

“Heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli,” says the National Academy of Sciences. In fact, another study showed, “When workers don’t check email, they focus for longer on tasks and show less psychological signs of stress.”

So what can we do about it?

A funny article and video by The Atlantic titled, “Single-tasking is the new multitasking,” introduces a new concept: Tabless Thursday. An entire day where participants are only allowed to use one tab on their internet browser at any one time. The article states: “Trying to do too many internet things at once makes it hard to get anything done at all. Tabless Thursday is a vacation from distraction.”

In the video, James Hamblin, M.D., states, “If you asked me the last time I did a thing and just did it, and wasn’t also trying to do something else – I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

He continues on, recounting a time when he tried to write a paper, but ended up on the internet looking at meerkats, which led to three-toed sloths, joining a cause about the prevention of the illegal trade of these beautiful creatures, noticing an ex-girlfriend liked a photo on Facebook, and spending an inordinate amount of time writing this person a message. While this is supposed to make you laugh, it shows how quickly and easily multitasking can lead to distraction.

Is it efficient for most people working in the AEC industry to have only one tab open for an entire day – probably not! But if you find yourself feeling stressed, or getting distracted by the never ending vortex of the internet, and too much input – don’t be afraid to turn your phone on silent, not check your email, and force yourself to just focus on one thing for a designated period of time.

Christina Zweig is Zweig Group’s director of marketing. Contact her at christinaz@zweiggroup.com.

Posted in Articles | September 26th, 2016 by