Todd Martin

Todd Martin

Sales Strategy

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Proud of Your Ability to Multitask? Maybe You Shouldn’t Be

July 19, 2015

It’s called task-switching, and it’s eating away at your workday.

Todd Martin 071715 image 1

I started to write this blog post first thing this morning, hoping to post it by noon. Here are some of the reasons why I didn’t finish it until 5 p.m.:

  • Multiple documents needed to be signed by multiple people, who took my open door as a sign that I was available.
  • Seems like every email I read required some kind of action.
  • One of my salespeople wanted to talk about a meeting scheduled for next week.
  • Some new promotional items came in, and I wanted to check them out so the team could start giving them out.
  • Another department head dropped in with some survey results she wanted to share.
  • I was doing research for my post, and came across some links related to another project I was working on, so I followed them.

I’m sure you can relate.

When I have a task that requires a couple of hours of concentrated work, I usually shut my door. Sometimes I put a sign onTodd Martin 071715 image 2 it asking not to be disturbed unless the building has caught fire. I block out that time on my shared calendar to indicate that I’m busy. If someone gets through my force field, I politely ask them if it can wait.

But I wanted to test out a statistic I’d recently read. According to the American Psychological Association, “task-switching” – dealing with everything that comes your way even if you should be concentrating on one project – can reduce your productive time by up to 40 percent.

40 percent. That got my attention. I’d always thought it was kind of a badge of honor to be able to juggle multiple activities in the same time period, jumping back and forth as I checked things off of my to-do list.

People have been studying task-switching for decades. It’s nothing new. We started calling it “multitasking” when graphical user interfaces made it possible to move rapidly between screens, often dealing with absolutely unrelated tasks. We’re told by psychologists that different types of thinking uses different parts of our brains, as well as wildly varied concentration levels and problem-solving skills.

My to-do list is so different every day. Some days, I can just take on work as it comes. But when I need to harness my inner resources and devote concentrated time to one project, I do the things I mentioned a few paragraphs up.

Your job may require that you be interrupted frequently. But there are still things you can do to minimize distractions when you need to, like:

  • Turning off unnecessary alarms and alerts, like that little “ping” that sounds when you have an email. Some email clients let you set up a way to know or be alerted when message come in from specific people. If you simply must check your email during a work session, use these tools so you can do a quick scan and get back to work.Todd Martin 071715 image 3
  • Consolidate trips out of the office. If you have to go to HR to get a form, do all of your other out-of-the-office errands at the same time.
  • If you are interrupted, take the time to jot a note about what you were doing and thinking, so you can get back on track quickly.
  • Having trouble concentrating? Organize a desk drawer or straighten up your desk. Doing a task that you can see the results of gives you a boost, and may help straighten your brain out, too.

It’s not just the time that you spend on the tasks you’re switching out. If you allow an interruption during a productive, focused period, it can take more time than you realize to get back in the grove.

Time-management tutorials may or may not tell you about the dangers of task-switching. But now you know.

Stock images courtesy of

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