Slow Down: It May Be Better To Be A Single-Tasker Instead Of A Multi-Tasker At Work

Many of us pride ourselves on being women that can multi-task because it supposed to be one of the things that we excel at  and tend be better at than men. Except, should we be really proud the face that we can talk on our cell, e-mail someone and pick out a bathing suit from J.Crew at the same time? And is that e-mail as good as it would have been if we had just devoted five sole minutes to it? Will you end up with an unflattering bandeau bikini top because you were concentrating on what your friend was saying on the phone?

As much as we would like to say we are great multi-taskers and that we can do everything at the same time well, this is often not the case. According to a study from Stanford on multi-tasking, it’s impossible to process more than one string of information at a time. Dave Crenshaw, business coach and author of The Myth of Multitasking, said the damage when trying to perform a bunch of jobs at the same time  is caused by what he calls the “switching cost” – the time taken to switch from one task and refocus on another. “You actually take much longer to accomplish things, make more mistakes and increase your stress,” he says. These are not the things you want to hear about when it comes to your work.

However if you are a habitual multi-tasker (I like to write emails, write articles, brainstorm and research other articles and discuss my new favorite show Switched at Birth with my coworkers at the same time. Sometimes I also try to sneak a yogurt in there as well) there is a way to help this. By slowing down you will actually be speeding up. Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow, told this month’s issue of Health Magazine “Working slower means working smarter by operating in a more focused way. It will boost your productivity and sustain your energy all week long.” Your goal should actually be to be more like a turtle and less like a rabbit (they really do seem to be the most stressed of all the animals in the kingdom. And just think of how they are portrayed in literature with Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh.)

She said these were three steps to keep in mind.

  1. Keep your computer screen clean: Closing all the extra windows on your computer will minimize distraction. If you are looking at a less cluttered screen your mind will feel less cluttered.
  2. Stop working and step away from your desk: Take at least two 10-minute breaks each day either to take a walk around the block or go talk to a coworker.
  3. Don’t scan e-mails: “Read work e-mails carefully several times to ensure that you don’t miss the details” said Hohlbaum. If something is really long or complex, print it out.


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