The Myth Of Multi-Tasking
Do you find it difficult to make time to work on the things that are important to you?
Are you trying to squeeze more into each day?
Do you wonder where your working time goes?
You may be surprised to know that the average worker spends 28% of their time dealing with emails.
The average smartphone user spends 58 minutes a day checking their phone and they are, on average, never more than 3’ away from it. We’re probably closer to our smartphones than we are to our partners/loved ones.
Do you recognize some of yourself in the stats above? I’m sure we all do but that doesn’t make them less scary does it? Add to that time for commuting and meetings and it’s easy to see how our work week can easily rush by without us feeling we have achieved the things we want to.
One of the answers to having not enough might seem to do more things simultaneously – multitasking. Lots of people are proud of their multitasking ability and of course we all know that women are better at this than men! The only problem is that multitasking is a very inefficient way to work.
It feels good because we trigger the happy signals in our brain. We feel busy, important and in demand which can all help boost our sense of self. However, multitasking is exhausting both mentally and physically.
Not only does it require huge amounts of brain energy it also requires time to “switch” between tasks. This switching time is less in women, than in men – giving rise to the women are better at multitasking thing. However, losing time as we switch between tasks isn’t an efficient way of working. Just think of a factory with a production line flowing effectively. It wouldn’t be efficient to stop it and change what was being produced every few minutes, yet that’s what we expect our brains to do when multitasking. No wonder we often make mistakes and end up feeling drained and exhausted.
So if multitasking isn’t the answer then surely throwing more hours at projects must be the right way to go. We can easily cut down on some sleep, miss our breaks and stay glued to our working space slogging away to get more done.
If this was the case then Greece and Mexico would be the two most productive countries in the world or 46.6 per week (based on 48 working weeks per year). Germany, Norway, The Netherlands and Denmark are at the other end of the spectrum entirely. The average working hours in Germany are 1363 per year, or 28.3 per week (based on 48 working weeks per year).
As this handy infographic from PGI shows productivity nosedives the more hours we work, dropping from over 50% for those with the lowest hours to less than 10% for those with the longest working hours.
Add into that the fact that those countries with the shortest working hours Finland, Denmark, Norway are also noted for being some of the worlds happiest over a consistent period of time. In some countries the push to throw more hours at things has resulted in that unfortunate game of “who can be at work the longest/latest”.
It’s not a great game because there aren’t really any winners, just more burnout, poorer productivity and strained personal relationships to deal with too.
If multitasking and throwing more hours at things aren’t then answer then perhaps time management is. With 172,000,000 results on Google for time management courses it would seem that there are many who think so.
Let me ask you a question? Can we really manage time? Can we get more or less of it? We can of course manage money.
We can speculate, accumulate, spend, invest, save and splurge but can we do the same with time? No matter what we do everyone has 24 hours in each day, no matter who they are, what they do, or how much money they have.
If we all get the same amount of time each day why are some people more successful than others? The answer involves their focus and attention. These people simply spend more time on what is important to them, on activities and projects they want to drive forward.
They create time and space for focused working, they use their intelligence and expertise wisely and precisely. They work at their best and take breaks to keep their energy and productivity levels high. They set themselves up for success, and work with their natural flow and rhythm. Think of it a bit like the difference between swimming with and against the tide.
By this point you might be feeling frustrated, thinking that working in such a way is fine for people who have lots of money, support and who don’t have to work a 9-5 job or have a boss like the rest of us do.
By making some changes in the way, when and how we work and helping to manage the expectations of others there is room for everyone to work on the things most important to them, whatever their role or situation.
I made the mistake of throwing more hours at projects initially too. I would often work into the small hours, sleeping in until 10 am and then starting all over again.
At the weekends when my nephew visited I would often be so exhausted I would ring my Dad to see if he could look after him while I caught up on sleep. Thankfully I realized this way of working was not sustainable. My health was suffering, my happiness levels were negligible and I felt I had no time for anything that was important to me, including my family.
I have done several things to improve my productivity and achieve more by working less. Ditching distractions has been a key part of that activity and it helps me keep my focus on what’s really important.