Mark Cole: The Multitasking Myth

We’d all like to think we can disconnect from work after a task-filled day and fully engage with our family at home despite our Apple Watch buzzing every 5 seconds with notifications.

Let’s be honest—we know concentrating on multiple tasks at once is not possible.

The concept of multitasking forces your brain to switch back and forth very quickly between two or more tasks. This wouldn’t be a problem if the human brain was able to transition seamlessly from one job to the next, but it can’t.

There is a psychological term for the mental price you pay each time you interrupt one task and jump to another. It’s called the switching cost. Switching cost is the disruption in performance that we experience when we switch our attention from one task to another.

A great example can be found in research from The International Journal of Information Management. They conducted a study measuring the frequency of email in the workplace. The study revealed that the typical person checks email once every five minutes, and that it takes 64 seconds to resume the previous task after checking your email.

That 64 seconds is the switching cost. And that cost adds up over time.

Despite the evidence of such costs, we still overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks at one time—which leads us to underestimate the benefits of focused concentration.

Today, people wear the title “Multitasker” like a badge of honor. It’s almost as if we celebrate being busy with many things more than being great at one thing.

Doing more things does not drive faster or better results; doing better things drives better results.

And even more accurately, doing one thing as best you can drives the best results.

John Maxwell says, “Mastery requires focus and consistency. If you commit to nothing you’ll be distracted by everything.” The power of choosing one priority is it naturally guides your behavior by forcing you to organize your life around that responsibility. Your priority becomes an anchor task that holds the rest of your day in place.

Great leaders confidently know where they get the most return and prioritize their time accordingly. These leaders experience the most success because they are secure enough to focus on mastering their one thing.

What do you want to master?

What is the one thing that will yield the greatest return from your time and energy?

If you will answer these questions and commit to staying focused on it, you will accomplish great things.

I’ll leave you with these challenging words from John Maxwell: “We confuse activity with accomplishment – and what’s worse, we invite the demands of others. We begin reacting rather than acting. We fail to manage by objectives and begin to manage by requests. Unfortunately, when we forget the ultimate, we become slaves to the immediate.”Don’t believe the multitasking myth. Your leadership will thrive if you refuse distractions and focus on doing what you do well.

4 Comments

  1. Armando Jose Gomez on April 26, 2019 at 11:05 am

    Leadership is to focus and to remain constant at improving your strength. Multitasking, I agree, limits our potential. As John Maxwell says, concentrate on what you are good at and delegate the other things which still need to be done. Thanks for your inspiration. God bless you always.

  2. Javason on April 26, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    It is a very inspiring lesson

  3. Javason on April 26, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    It is a very inspiring lesson because I am one of the leaders who is affected by overwhelming activities. So this lesson hopefully will be of help in my current situation of multitasking

  4. Melinda Perez on May 7, 2019 at 6:30 am

    I took pride in calling Multitasking a loved sport of mine. Never did I once consider the switch cost. It makes so much sense. Now that I am aware, it will be 1 area I care not to spend.

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