Technology allows us to surf the web, message a colleague, type up a report, listen to music and check emails all at once. As a result, many modern workers are impulsive by nature, which is often why so many feel the need to multitask.
But if you're trying to split your focus to include more than one project, don't. You're only hurting your productivity – and your company's bottom line. A recent study by Bryan College found that balancing more than one task at a time actually hinders employee performance, ultimately leading to a global cost of $450 million per year.
Andy Kerns, creative director at Digital Third Coast, says many people believe multitasking is focusing on more than one task at a time, which is actually impossible. What's really happening is you're shifting attention from one thing to the next – music to email to chat alerts – every few seconds, without ever being fully present on one task, he said.
The negative impact of multitasking
According to the Bryan College study, millennials switch from platform to platform 27 times per hour. Additionally, multitasking lowers IQs by 15 points during cognitive tasks and decreases emotional intelligence and brain density over time.
"We crave constant stimulation and fast rewards and lots of variety, so we bounce around in the modern, digital environment trying to do a bunch of things really fast, all at once," said Kerns. "The results are bad on every level – sloppy work, poor decision-making, increased stress, lack of creativity, [etc.].”
He added that multitasking is unproductive because less quality work is produced, more mistakes are made and more money is lost.
Retraining a team of multitaskers
So, what can managers do to handle the issue of multitasking? One of the best things you can do is encourage breaks. If a worker is overwhelmed by tasks without a lull in their work, they'll feel more pressured to multitask. To avoid this, encourage your workers to unwind throughout the day.
Kerns stated that employers should provide quiet, distraction-free spaces for employees to unplug. This will help them focus better once they return to their assignments.
You can also build a culture of slower but more purposeful thinking. Multitasking is often a result of outside distractions and stressors. It's bound to happen and shouldn't be punished. However, other methods, like slower and more careful thinking, should be encouraged.
"At the end of the day, with all the distractions available to us, and with the freedoms we expect in a modern workplace, it's unrealistic for employers to think they can control the amount of multitasking," said Kerns. "Instead, they should celebrate approaches to work that are the opposite of impulsive and unfocused."