From Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done,
via the Harvard Business Review:
During a conference call with the executive committee of a nonprofit board on which I sit, I decided to send an email to a client.
I know, I know. You’d think I’d have learned.
Last week I wrote about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. Multitasking is dangerous. And so I proposed a way to stop.
But when I sent that email, I wasn’t in a car. I was safe at my desk. What could go wrong?
Well, I sent the client the message. Then I had to send him another one, this time with the attachment I had forgotten to append. Finally, my third email to him explained why that attachment wasn’t what he was expecting. When I eventually refocused on the call, I realized I hadn’t heard a question the Chair of the Board had asked me.
I swear I wasn’t smoking anything. But I might as well have been. A study showed that people distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQs. What’s the impact of a 10-point drop? The same as losing a night of sleep. More than twice the effect of smoking marijuana.
Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves, thinking we’re getting more done. In reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%. We don’t actually multitask. We switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another, interrupting ourselves unproductively, and losing time in the process.
You might think you’re different, that you’ve done it so much you’ve become good at it. Practice makes perfect and all that.
But you’d be wrong. Research shows that heavy multitaskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers. In other words, in contrast to almost everything else in your life, the more you multitask, the worse you are at it. Practice, in this case, works against you.