It’s no secret: Multitasking does not exist.

But somehow, we have tricked ourselves into believing that it’s a cornerstone of our work day. We answer emails, talk on the phone, and jot down notes at the same time. We drink coffee, scan paperwork, and listen to podcasts simultaneously. A lot of job descriptions will actually list “ability to multitask” as a skill needed for the job. But studies have shown that we aren’t as good at multitasking as we think we are.  We are actually DECREASING our productivity and efficiency in the workplace when we multitask.

We’ve written about distractions before, but it’s worth a refresher:

  1. The average American checks their phone 150 times a day
  2. You are 3x more likely to make mistakes in your work after being distracted by tech notifications

Distractions are part of the myth of multitasking. The average employee gets interrupted (meaning toggling between tasks or getting socially/technologically distracted) from their work approximately every THREE minutes! That’s twenty times an hour! As if that wasn’t bad enough, it takes another 20 minutes to fully reorient ourselves within a task after being distracted from it. Essentially, in trying to do five things at a time, none of them are getting the time needed to complete it with quality.  Almost a quarter of what should’ve gotten done today has to be pushed back. What. A. Mess.

There are also longer-term consequences to multitasking.

Toggling back and forth between multiple projects has the obvious consequence of less attention to detail and quality control–but our brains try to overcompensate for this by working faster and harder on the project than necessary. This comes at the cost of higher stress levels, less REM sleep, and, sometimes, actual financial losses.

Trying to multitask as a form of hyper-productivity can be compared to being intoxicated on the job: your confidence levels rise as your performance levels plummet. We just shouldn’t be doing it.

So, what should we be doing instead? How do we get back the nearly 20% of work that we lose to interruptions and multitasking a day?

Here’s our top 3 ways to stop multitasking and get back to focus:

  1. Turn off your notifications  – play a game with yourself, and see how many notification you can disable on your phone and laptop.  Whenever a notification comes through on your phone, go into your settings and disable future notifications for that app.
  2. Work in focused work blocks – see how long you can focus without getting distracted.  Focus is like a muscle – the more you work it, the stronger it gets.  Focus on one task at a time until it’s completed, without getting distracted by other people and social media.  Bet you can’t last more than 10 minutes when you start!
  3. Close your open loops – sometimes we multitask because our brain suddenly remembers something really important we forgot to do, and then we jump to that task like a squirrel remembering where it hid its last nut.   These are called “open loops” and they’re the random thoughts that come to mind right as we’re falling asleep (“I’ve got to call Mom tomorrow, it’s her birthday”, “Shoot, I really need to tell my husband to pick up that prescription”).   Instead of trying to frantically complete these tasks in the moment, write them down somewhere safe to come back to later.  Stay focused at the task at hand.

Do you struggle with multitasking? Tell us in the comments below!

Here’s some more fun facts about multitasking:

  1. Up to 50% of your work day is taken up by interruptions (emails, calls, urgent assignments, etc.)
  2. About 25% of daily interruptions can be anticipated/corrected by pre-planning your day’s to-do list
  3. Trying to complete two or more tasks at the same time makes you up to 40% less productive on each of the individual tasks
  4. Multitasking temporarily decreases your IQ by up to 10 points!
  5. Women are not better at multitasking than men–everyone’s equally bad at it!
  6. When you are talking on the phone while typing on a device, you actually only hear about half of what the person on the phone is saying
  7. 2% of the population actually can multitask–the rest of us are just switching tasks rapidly
  8. It only takes about 1/10 of a second to toggle between tasks