Improve Your Productivity by Giving Up Multitasking

Last Updated Mar 11, 2011 7:28 PM EST

Multitasking has become a canonical characteristic of the modern workplace; everyone does three things at once, including e-mail while in meetings and on the phone, writing two documents at once, and letting walk-ins disrupt our concentration while deep in a project.

There's little debate -- multitasking is considered an essential business skill. But what if you knew it made you slow and stupid?

Last week, the Harvard Business Review wrote about how and why) to stop multitasking. Multitasking, it seems, has the effect of dropping your IQ by 10 points -- the same as losing an entire night of sleep. Studies show that your productivity can drop by 40% when you multitask. And practice makes you ever more imperfect: Heavy multitaskers are even less efficient than light multitaskers.

Is there anything you can do to even up the score?

There doesn't appear to be much you can do to become a more productive multitasker -- the human brain simply isn't wired for success at doing several things at once. But there are a couple of things you can do to enforce single tasking in this multitasking world:

  • Turn off your temptations. If you're trying to work, shut off your computer or disable the wireless connection. Turn off your phone. You could vow simply not to use those devices, but let's be real: You're only human.
  • Shorten your deadlines. Modern deadlines are designed with the sluggish pace of multitasking in mind. Give yourself an unrealistically short deadline. You'll be too busy to multitask, and you just might find you can get the job done in the allotted time after all.
Photo by Mike "Dakinewavamon" Kline