I multi-task and I know that it interferes with my productivity.

Recently, expert sales and productivity coach Nicki Weiss wrote a fantastic article on how (and why) to stop multi-tasking.  Below is the article in its entirety.  This article comes from Nicki’s super monthly newsletter.  It is worth subscribing to and you can do so on her website’s home page www.saleswise.ca

SalesWise: How (and Why) To Stop Multitasking

During a conference call with the executive team of a client company, I decided to send an email to another client.

I know, I know. You’d think I would have learned.

What could go wrong?

First I sent the client the message. Then I sent him another one with the attachment I had forgotten to append. In my third email I explained why the attachment he received wasn’t the one he was expecting. When I eventually refocused on the call, I realized I hadn’t heard a crucial question.

Multitaking makes you stupid

I swear I wasn’t smoking anything, but apparently I was acting as if I had. A recent study has shown that IQs drop by 10 points in people who are distracted by email and phone calls.

We’re only fooling ourselves when we think we get more done by doing several things at once. In reality new research shows that our productivity can decline by up to 40%. We don’t actually multitask; we switch-task, rapidly shifting from one activity to another, interrupting ourselves and losing time.

You might think you’re different, that you have multitasked so much you’re an expert. But you’d be wrong. Recent findings show that heavy multitaskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers. The more you multitask, the worse you are at it.

An experiment in non-multitasking

I decided to do an experiment. For one week I would not multitask and see what happened. When I was on the phone, I would only talk or listen. In a meeting I would only concentrate on the meeting.

I didn’t think I could sustain that kind of focus, but turns out I was pretty successful, at least most of the time.

During the week I discovered six new ways of looking at the world:

1. The experience was delightful. When you stop checking for email you stay in closer touch with your surroundings. I noticed this phenomenon especially with my teenage sons. Normally I feel they don’t want to interact with me much, given how uncool I am. However, I was surprised to notice how often they initiated a conversation when I wasn’t constantly responding to the e-mail ping.

2. I made significant progress on challenging projects. I usually try to distract myself from work that requires thought and persistence, such as writing and strategizing. However, without distractions I was able to plough through the uncomfortable times and overcome the mind blocks.

3. My stress dropped dramatically. Research shows that multitasking isn’t just inefficient, it’s stressful. I can vouch for the stress factor. I felt liberated from the strain of keeping so many balls in the air, and I experienced a sense of accomplishment when I finished one task before going on to the next.

4. I lost all patience with time-wasting activities. An hour-long meeting seemed interminable and a meandering conversation was excruciating. I focused my attention like a laser beam on my list, and quickly burned through the “to-do’s”.

5. I had tremendous patience for enjoyable activities. I was in no rush to end conversations with my clients, and my mind stayed focused when I was brainstorming about a difficult problem.

6. Single-tasking has no downside. No one became frustrated with me for not answering a call or failing to return an email the second I received it.

Why don’t we all just stop multitasking?

So, why not use all your brain’s energy to listen to a prospect on the phone while booking a trip to Paris online?

Sounds good, except the brain is already working at capacity when you’re doing just one task. It is picking up conversational nuances or thinking about what you’ve just heard. Ask it to take on a second or third task and you take away its ability to deal fully with the first one.

How do we resist the temptation?

Turn the distractions off. I often write and plan at 6:30 a.m. Following my successful experiment I continue to leave my cell phone and email off just in case a multitasker is trying to reach me. I turn my car phone off, too…sometimes (other single-task warriors I know leave their cell phones in the trunk).

Use your impatience constructively. So you’re itchy without all the ring tones and email pings to answer. Fill that void by creating unrealistically short deadlines. Give yourself a third of the time you think you need to accomplish something.

There’s nothing like a deadline to fully occupy your brain. If you only have 30 minutes to finish a presentation, you’re not going to take a call or flip back an email.

Ironically, single-tasking to meet a tight deadline will reduce your stress, and just might help you to be more productive.

Talk back: What is your experience with multitasking? How does it affect your productivity? Your customer relationships?

This information is of a general nature and should not be considered professional advice. Its accuracy or completeness is not guaranteed and Queensbury Strategies Inc. assumes no responsibility or liability.