There’s a television show called Myth Busters where a team of scientists take commonly held myths and determine if they can be BUSTED–or proven false. Recently, I had a little case of my own.

A friend of mine, Steve Scott, shared a powerful message at a networking meeting a few weeks ago and I wanted to share it and the impact it has had on me in hopes that it may do the same for you.

For years, I’ve lived with a fallacy that multitasking means that one is highly productive because of the ability to perform many things at once. If the truth be told, I’ve also held the belief that women are innately superior in this area. Let me see if any of this sounds familiar to you…

I start my day at the crack of dawn. I race to brush my teeth, wash my face and grab clothes for my kids as I bound downstairs. I fix school lunches, down a cup of my favorite breakfast beverage (Dr. Pepper) and yell to the kids that it’s time to get up for school. As they’re busy getting dressed, I race upstairs to check email–just in case something important came through since I last checked it at 2 a.m.

While browsing my emails, I notice a Facebook message is waiting for me. I innocently click the link intending to ONLY accept this one friend request to find myself staring at the screen 20 minutes later wondering how I got there. I notice the time and call out to my kids that I’ll be down to fix them cereal in a moment.

When my kids finish eating their cereal, I hurriedly rush them to get their backpacks and head out to the truck. My youngest asks me why I’ve still got on my PJ’s. Oh yes! I was so busy multitasking that I failed to dress myself…again! And that is just the START of my day.

Confession of the day: I’ve lived like this for YEARS! My guess is that many of you have too. That is why I found myself wondering at the end of the day exactly WHAT I had accomplished. Sure, I had STARTED many tasks but few, if any, were COMPLETE. It was a vicious cycle.

Then, Steve shared some statistics at a meeting I attended about how much TIME is WASTED by multitasking. In fact, multitasking it not humanly possible. We actually switch task, meaning that we switch from one task to another that seems to take more precedence at the moment. Worse yet, when we go back to the original task, especially if it is a highly detailed or technical task, it takes much longer to get back into the “grove” so to speak. Doubt me? Here’s the eye opening experiment I tried.

After contemplating how ineffective my years of multitasking had made me, I wanted to quantify it for myself. I decided to put a time limit on a regular task (writing a blog article) and went about my routine as usual. Within 5 minutes of starting to “work” on my article (the national average is 11 minutes), I got my FIRST interruption–an email thanks to my handy-dandy desktop notification program. I stopped my “work” and went into my email client. 30 minutes later, I took a bathroom break and went downstairs for a snack. 15 minutes later, I was back upstairs just settling into my office chair when my phone rang. I picked it up, answered the call and logged back into the dashboard to work on my article. Did I mention that I was STILL on the phone? No doubt the person on the other end of the line heard my nails as they pounded on the keyboard. Suddenly, I realized that the person on the other end of the conversation was waiting for my response.

It was at that moment I realized that I had not been listening and could not answer the question. I apologized profusely to my friend and owned up to my mistake. Bottom line was that at least TWO hours of my day was gone and I had NOTHING to show for it except a paragraph of an article, which didn’t entirely make sense, and a friend offended by my rudeness.

So, it hits me like a ton of bricks. I now saw multitasking for what it was–rude and self-indulgent…not to mention completely non-productive. My resolution: perform the SAME task with some restructuring of my priorities.

The following day, I sat down at my desk. Before logging into my dashboard to blog, I turned OFF my email desktop notification system. Then, I got REALLY crazy and I turned my phone to silent so that calls could go to voice-mail. I put a sign on the outside of my home office door that said, “Disturb for FIRE or DEATH only!” The result: THREE articles completed in less than one hour! Yes…I AM amazing! ;-)

That was all the motivation I needed to truly discipline myself in order to BREAK the cycle of multitasking. Not only have I increased my work efficiency, I’ve recognized through this experience that I was doing the same things to my family. I was able to check back IN and truly be PRESENT when spending time with my spouse and my boys.

For me, the MYTH of “Multitasking” has officially been BUSTED!

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Comment by Carrie K. Carter on June 19, 2009 at 3:02pm
This is so true. I once was a start then finish a task person. The older I get the more easily distracted I am - I would have thought it to be the other way around. Sounds like I might need to revisit some of my old habits. We have a new joke around the office. We are calling the quick distractions squirrels. If you haven't had a chance to treat yourself to a movie - we truly enjoyed UP! The dogs are distracted pretty easily by squirrels.


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