The Myth of Multi Tasking

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Ben Willmott

It's probably not surprising, but multi-tasking isn't effective when it comes to tasks that require concentration and mental effort.

Did you know 28% of your working week is lost to task switching, procrastination and distractions around the office and home?

This shocking stat is from the book,  The One Thing by Gary Keller , which I highly recommend.

We have to do task switching as Project Managers all the time, but we often do it without realising it.

Can you imagine getting back 28% of your week to work on what you want?

Research shows that focusing on one task at a time is much more effective than trying to multi-task.

In my personal experience, I have tried both approaches. When I concentrate on one task at a time, my productivity increases, the quality of my work improves, and I feel more confident about myself. Moreover, people around me can also notice the positive difference in my output.

Often we only sometimes recognise when we're multi-tasking, so what exactly does a regular day of multi-tasking look like?

On Teams call, whilst simultaneously replying to emails or other Teams messages, or trying to finish a report or presentation.

Or working on a document, but each time a new email or Teams message pops up, you read it and either respond or get back to working on your document.

You get the idea.

Another reason for focusing on one thing is you can get into a flow state, which professional athletes often describe, but it's just for the elite.

Have you ever been so engrossed in a task that you lost track of time? That's called being in a flow state. It happens when you're fully focused on a challenging but manageable task, and there are no distractions to interrupt your concentration.

Achieving a flow state is the optimal goal for tackling difficult and valuable work tasks.

To achieve a flow state, it's best to reduce distractions before beginning the task.

  • Turn off notifications (mobile, desktop, smartwatch).
  • A quiet environment to work in.
  • Go full-screen with the application you're working on.
  • Keep your mobile out of reach or view.

To stay engaged and motivated, find a challenging but not overwhelmingly difficult task that falls within your stretch zone.

If a task is too easy, you may become distracted and lose interest quickly. On the other hand, if it's too complicated, your willpower may soon fade, and you may find yourself procrastinating.

Then think about how you can get into this zone by asking yourself;

What's the highest leverage I can do right now that will help me bring the most value, move me closer to my goals, impact those around me, etc…

With this task, start and see how long you can stay in that stretched zone. Once you're finished, or if you only lasted 10 minutes, review what happened so you can give yourself a better chance next time to stay focused for longer.

Ben Willmott
Ben is Delivery Director at the London based creative agency Wunderman Thompson where he creates bespoke ways or working for his clients and teams. Ben is also the founder of The PPM Academy specializing in coaching Project Management, Agile Delivery and how to be more productive at home and work.

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