People in North America are obsessed with multi-tasking. It’s associated with being smarter and more productive. However, when you think about a time when you’ve accomplished a task, like when you’re reading a book and you have to go back and re-read the page because you were thinking of something else. This is a clear example of one task interrupting another and causing you to be less productive.
According to Jared Goralnick, Founder of the email sorting program AwayFind, Americans lose more than a quarter of their day to these types of interruptions, with email being the most persistent. Also the glaring problem is not even just the emails, but getting refocused after the interruption.
A New York Times article revealed that 28% of a knowledge worker’s day is spent on “interruptions by things that aren’t urgent or important, like unnecessary e-mail messages—and the time it takes to get back on track.” (Basex Report: The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity)
Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users explains it more clearly:
Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context- switching prevents. Flow requires a challenging use of our knowledge and skills, and that’s quite different from mindless tasks we can multitask (eating and watching TV, etc.). Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.
And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we’re stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it’s a matter of being able to focus.
What do we suggest?
BATCHING, rather than multitask and attend to every little interruption as it comes up, batch tasks by grouping similar tasks together and focus only on those. This can be done in two simple steps:
1. Grouping like tasks together
2. Staying focused on the tasks until they’re completed
Just choose a few times a day where you’re going to focus on sorting, reading and replying to all messages and allow your mind to really focus on the other work you have to do in between. Simple as that!