I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
A new study released today documents a 59.8% increase in employees’ productivity when they stop multitasking. Based on these findings, the study estimates that multitasking costs the global economy $450 billion annually!
In a way, it’s common sense—switching back and forth from one project to another requires one’s brain to regroup with each switch, costing valuable time and energy. But it’s also common to hear multitasking touted as a valuable skill in and of itself. So which is it—helpful or harmful?
I think it depends on the context. Multitasking is most useful in situations like raising small children, when the skill of switching back and forth between tasks—soothing the baby while making her formula, listening to the three-year-old’s play sounds, and checking the pot on the stove—is essential. But when it comes to projects that require sustained effort—writing a business proposal, balancing a financial account, operating a machine, and many other tasks involved in standard day jobs—multitasking only drains our mental energy and our time. (Considered in the light of human evolution, this explains why women are typically more adept at multitasking than men.)
I recently discovered the value of unitasking for myself, thanks to my best friend. I had about twelve writing projects going on at once, and I aimed (but always failed) to work on each one a little bit every day. My friend pointed out that by doing this, I was keeping my appetite for each project whetted, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere with any of the projects. So I decided to try what seemed very radical to me—one project at a time. And this approach has revolutionized my writing, because my hunger for the projects I’m not working on keeps growing, making me want to hurry up and finish the project I’m on so I can get to the next one. Most important, I’m getting stuff written (and loving it)!