Are you a mad multitasker? You know what I mean—switching back and forth between 12 open programs on your computer while simultaneously talking on one phone, checking texts on a second phone and eating lunch at your desk. Women business owners are particularly prone to multitasking mania, probably because many of us are used to juggling dozens of tasks (overseeing the kids’ homework while working on the laptop and folding laundry) in our home lives. But that doesn’t mean we’re better at it than men.
Studies on male vs. female multitasking abilities are many and controversial. For every study showing that women are better at it, there’s one claiming men are. But the real question isn’t who’s better at multitasking, but whether multitasking is helpful or hurtful.
A raft of studies done in labs have indicated that while multitasking actually decreases your productivity, people tended to believe the opposite—that they were more effective when multitasking. An Ohio State University study went one step beyond to find out why people think multitasking is more productive. Researchers found that:
- People feel more productive because they are emotionally satisfied by multitasking.
- People tended to multitask when they had a specific task to do (such as studying); in other words, multitasking provided a way to avoid focusing on something that was rather unpleasant.
- As a result, people feel emotionally satisfied by multitasking, which leads them to keep doing it.
- As they continue multitasking, it develops into a habit, and the positive emotions that come from it plus the habit-forming nature makes them keep doing it.
So what can you do to break your multitasking habit? Like any habit, it will take time (about 21 days) to break the old habit and institute new ones. Try setting rules like shutting down your email and only checking it a few times a day; letting calls go to voice mail and checking them at set times; shutting your office door for short periods when you need to concentrate; and using online tools like Freedom or Concentrate to keep you from wasting time on the Internet.
Yes, I realize that these habits may be hard to institute, but start small. You’d be surprised at what just a couple hours a day of not multitasking can do for your productivity—and your business.
Image by Flickr user deux-chi (Creative Commons)Google+