The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. We need to change the mentality that multitasking is effective and efficient, and switch to single tasking.

2. Single tasking is starting with the most important task (remember priority management) and working on it exclusively until it is either complete or you are out of time. Then move on to the next task.

3. By managing how you spend your mental energy, you're setting yourself up for success.

What are you doing while you read this? Do you have your mobile phone, a desk phone, a tablet and a laptop all on the go at once? Probably. We all tend to. After all, multitasking is the sign of a highly effective and efficient mind – right?

Wrong. And it’s time for a reminder about a topic we covered earlier in the program: single tasking.

Doing several things at once might make it seem like you are working hard but it’s actually an illusion. Your body and mind are not designed to work that way. Switching from task to task reduces your proficiency. Why? Because of how blood flows in our brains.

It’s like a firefighter trying to put out multiple fires at once by spraying water from a hose quickly across several burning houses rather than extinguishing one blaze and then moving on to the next.

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New research from the UK shows that when workers are distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages, they suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana! Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College, London University, conducted 80 clinical trials where he monitored the IQ of workers throughout the day. He found that multi-tasking could decrease IQ by an average of 10 points (15 for men and five for women – and, yes, that is evidence that women rule the world!). This is the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep!

The concept behind single tasking is that you start with the most important – not urgent – task and work on it exclusively until it is either complete or you are out of time. Then you move on to whatever is next. By managing how you spend your mental energy, you ensure that you excel at whatever you do. I recommend avoiding email first thing in the morning so that you don’t get derailed by something urgent but not important. I also suggest checking messages at two or three specific times of the day and doing nothing but messages for that period of time. 

The myth of multitasking is deeply embedded in our mindset, so you might find it hard to change the way you work. But if you do, you will be putting the science to work.

Today's POWER-UP: Set aside time to single task

Set aside a 90 minute block of time each day when you have time to completely focus and really drill down into a task that you have to accomplish – writing a report, analyzing some data, preparing a speech, or whatever is the highest priority on your list.

During that time, turn off your phone or put it on silent and disconnect from the Internet. Be completely focused on that one task with no distractions. Build this into your schedule and add it to your calendar so you can defend this critical time for your highest priorities.