L&D Professional: Why multitasking is a fallacy - Michelle Gibbings

Everyone loves to believe that they are brilliant at multitasking. However, the sad reality is that it’s a myth because when you multitask your attention is broken.

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Everyone loves to believe that they are brilliant at multitasking, said Michelle Gibbings, founder of Change Meridian and author of the new book, Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work.

However, the sad reality is that it’s a myth because when you multitask your attention is broken.

“As you switch from one activity to another you lose concentration and, ultimately, become less productive,” she said.

“If you are talking on the phone to somebody and checking emails at the same time you won’t be fully concentrating on what is being said.”

Gibbings added that you may think you are listening, but you won’t hear the entire conversation or fully interpret the information being delivered.

You’ll also miss the subtle signals that the person may be sending you about what they are feeling and thinking.

“At the same time, each instance you switch from one task to another your brain is activated, and that uses up precious resources,” she said.

“The brain isn’t hard-wired to handle multiple issues simultaneously or to rapidly switch back and forward between tasks.”

David Rock, in his book Your Brain at Work uses the metaphor of the pre-frontal cortex as a stage. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that handles functions such as thinking and decision making.

Issues arise when there are too many actors on your stage, each trying to play multiple scenes.

He said: “While it is physically possible sometimes to do several mental tasks at once, accuracy and performance drop off quickly”.

“Of course, people try to multi-task and can be single-minded in what they need from a conversation because there is an incredible sense of busyness in today’s work environment. There always seems to be so much to do,” said Gibbings.

“Think about the flipside. In a highly competitive market where the demands on people are continuing to increase, you can distinguish yourself from others by taking the time to really listen to people.

“They will see you are fully present and really listening to their needs. This builds trust and ultimately confidence in you. All of which helps you to stand out.”

A recent study involving adolescents found that frequent media multitasking was associated with poorer performance on statewide standardised achievement tests of maths and English. It was also linked with poorer performance on behavioral measures of executive function (working memory capacity).

“This relationship may be due to decreased executive functions and increased impulsiveness- both previously associated with both greater media multitasking and worse academic outcomes,” said Amy S. Finn of the University of Toronto, one of the leaders of the study.