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Efficient--or a Waste of Time
September 2009
Multi-tasking makes you stupid
Multi-tasking, most of us are "experts" at it, but sadly the body of research is now showing that multi-tasking handicaps us.

Multi-tasking is neither efficient nor helps us do things faster.

I have clients who have adopted some of the techniques to manage multi-tasking from the article below.

This has helped them become less stressed and more effective in demanding work environments.

As always, I welcome your comments.
Kind regards,

0409 207 8
Susan's 2009 Photo

Multi-tasking makes you stupid

(or, How to reduce your IQ, try multi-tasking)

"Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers."  This was the key finding of a 2005 study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London.

The psychologist who led this study called this new "infomania" a serious threat to workplace productivity.

More and more studies are showing the madness of multi-tasking. 

In 1999 Canadian researcher Pierre Jolicoeur demonstrated our brains "restricted attentional capacity".  That is, our brain can only deal efficiently with one set of inputs at a time.

Recent research (August 2009) from Stanford has shown that frequent multi-taskers not only make more mistakes, but they are also slower at multitasking than infrequent multi-taskers. So multi-taskers are not only more error prone, they are slower as well.

Why is this so? What the researchers found is that one task interferes with another, so everything takes longer because the brain loses time and accuracy in repeatedly shifting effort. These innate computational inefficiencies within your brain can result in 40 percent more time being needed for the same task (and still have a less accurate result).

Psychologist David Meyer from the University of Michigan also found that multi-tasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline, which can cause long term health problems if not controlled.  Dr Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who wrote a book called CrazyBusy argues that multi-tasking "can be controlled only by creatively engineering one's environment and one's emotional and physical health". 

What does this mean for our daily life?

Recognising that multi-tasking is a problem is a good start. 

Setting boundaries for your actions and the actions of people you work with or manage can make a difference.

Some things you could stop doing are:

  •   opening and responding to emails as they come in throughout the day
  •  having frequent unplanned conversations either by phone or in person
  •   promising immediate responses without prioritising on the basis of importance

Some things you could start doing are:

  •  recognising when you work best through the day and allocating the more important work for that time and conversely, using the times when you know you have less concentration for more routine requirements
  • asking others for help to stop interruptions in times of high focus/concentration
  •  using the answer-phone more effectively; opening emails at set times
  • scheduling and keeping regular lunch and other breaks
  •  using prioritised to-do lists 


The key, as much as possible, is to focus on one task at a time with a minimum of distractions. 

This will help you to become more efficient and less stressed.


You are welcome to click here to forward this article to a colleague who may find it useful, Thanks, Susan