The Multi-Tasking Myth

Blogs to read, emails to respond to, a website to worry about, client presentations and we haven’t even talked about the to-do list for your personal life! It’s no wonder that we try to do more than a few things at once. It’s the only way to fit it all in, right? Well not really…

A Harvard Business Review post says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ(1) 


And for those of us that multi-task with our electronic devices?

“Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London studied 1,100 workers at a British company and found that multitasking with electronic media caused a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night’s sleep.”(2)


Have you ever noticed how we respond to the “bling” sound of our email box or buzz of a new text with the same attention we’d give a newborn? It’s no secret that technology is doing amazing things, but in some ways it is also chipping away at our productivity and making us a little crazy in the process.

Is it possible to manage it all?


Let me introduce to you my new favorite F word, good, old-fashioned FOCUS. (I know, how novel and retro!)

The truth is multitasking doesn’t always work and when we do multi-task—I’m guilty of it too—we don’t always deliver our best work. So today I am going to share with you my top hints for hunkering down, focusing and getting it all done.  

Write your to-do list the night before.

Write down everything you think you need to get done and be as specific as possible. Put it away for 30 minutes then take a look at it again. Be real about what you really need to accomplish and cross off the rest.

Add time for looking at Facebook or taking a walk around the block.
In the book The Power of Full Engagement (a must read on uber-productivity) Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz talk about intervals of productivity. Their main message? To be truly effective you must have alternating periods of time where you will be in a state of highly focused activity and then rest. Yes rest! So if you are crunching numbers for an hour, you need to also take time for a brain break.   

Schedule your to-do list.
Put the one thing that requires the most of your focused energy first. Be sure to plan breaks and plan according to your own personal periods of energy highs and lows. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t so you can plan better tomorrow. Don’t freak out if you miss something. Just adjust and keep going.

Plan for interruptions.
I used to schedule myself to the minute. Then I realized that would work perfectly… if I lived in a cave. You need to be sure you are flexible so that when the unexpected comes up—and it will—you are not thrown off course (too much anyway).

Turn everything else off.
When you are ready to start your scheduled period of focused activity turn everything else off. I know this may be harder than running the Boston Marathon for me some of us, but it’s the way to make this work. Close your email, turnoff your iPhone, shut your office door and let your phone go to voice mail. You’re not a bad person, you are getting stuff done! And believe me—you will get very used to the peace and quiet in no time.  

So now that I’ve shared my secrets, you tell me what are your tricks for staying focused? What is the one thing you are going to focus on today?  Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

(1)Bergman, 2010


Marissa BishopComment