According to the American Psychological Association, doing more than one complex task at a time minimizes, not maximizes, productivity. While the time it takes to switch tasks may be as small as a few tenths of a second, the time can add up when people move between tasks repeatedly. Researchers claim that cognitive interferences caused by multi-tasking complex tasks can cost up to 40% of production time. Not only does multi-tasking take more time, but it also can result in errors.
In an NPR segment, titled “The Myth of Multi-tasking,” Stanford professor, Clifford Nass, explains the consequences of chronic multi-tasking, such as the inability to “filter out irrelevancy” or “manage a working memory.” The ultimate detriment to productivity lies in attempting to do several “non-integrated tasks” at once. Therefore, it’s best to designate time blocks throughout the day for certain tasks, such as email and call backs, so that you can remain focused on an important task at hand. Also, consider writing a daily to-do list first thing every morning so you have direction for the rest of the day.
For the little tasks that pop up throughout the day, use the “two-minute rule,” recommended by entrepreneur Steve Olenski. Essentially, if you have a simple task that can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. According to Olenski, finishing something quickly and getting if off your plate actually saves time. So don’t put it off until later! The more you check off your to-do list, the less you have to worry about. If however it cannot be completed quickly, then reserve the task for when you have small windows of time throughout the work day.