The difference between distractions and interruptions
As defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary it is “something that makes it difficult to think or pay attention”. These distractions are often our inboxes, social media platforms, and sometimes even music, noises or text messages. I personally don’t like listening to music when working and prefer to focus on the task at hand. This basically includes everything that shifts your attention away.
Interruptions are different from distraction because of the fact that it causes an event or action to stop for a certain amount of time. This could be colleagues talking to you, or phone calls. Some of these interruptions may seriously hinder your productivity while others may, in contrary, improve your performances. Taking a break, having a coffee, chatting for 5 min with a colleague or replying to the phone (project emergency) will not only help to regain some energy but also to advance in your project or even career (who knows your colleague may just have a solution to some of your issues!)
What is multi-tasking?
Before we get into the deep consequences of multi-tasking, let’s first see what multitasking really means. A French study conducted by The Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris shows that the frontal lobe of our brain responsible for goals and rewards was divided into two parts (left and right) when handling two tasks at a time. On the other hand, when people were working on only one task, both of the brain lobes were working together to get the task done.
When people were handling three tasks, one of the previous tasks was not visible in the brain anymore. Additionally, they made more mistakes and worked slower. Consequently, this means that conducting three tasks is nearly impossible, but it is possible to conduct 2 tasks at a time even though it won’t be as efficient as single-tasking.
It can also be noticed that there is a “task” and “task”. For example, the two tasks involved are usually one that requires a lot of brain power while the other doesn’t. For example, typing on a computer without looking at the keyboard and reading on the screen. Driving while talking with other friends in the car. Or talking on the phone while cooking our usual, traditional dish. This all comes done to the level of expertise, experience, and habit. You can surely brush your teeth while watching TV.
A 15% drop in IQ!
The University of London released a study showing the dangerous impact of multitasking when undertaking cognitive tasks. Apparently, it would cause a 15% decline in terms of IQ and cause symptoms similar to not sleeping all night or even smoking marijuana … Also focusing on two tasks drops our productivity by 40%!
We don’t really multitask, we switch between tasks
When the task requires too much brain power it usually means that our two front lobes have to be in action. In order to do so, it switches from one task to the other. According to a study from Gloria Mark, University of California, it takes over 23 minutes to fully be back on track between two tasks when interrupted (not talking about distractions here). They also found that people were experiencing more “stress, frustration, mental effort, the feeling of time pressure and mental workload. So that’s the cost” Gloria Mark said during her interview with Fast Company.
Focusing on one task at a time, and working on it until it is done is key As you can see, multitasking presents several downsides. However, it is important to note that doing several tasks in a day is different from the concept of multitasking. You are considered productive when you get a lot done in the day, not because you handle 3 things at the same time. Focusing on one task at a time, and working on it until it is done is key. Of course, interruptions may occur but that is the normal process of life, isn’t it? In my next article, I will give you tips, trick, and tools, to avoid this productivity loophole mainly caused by distractions and sometimes, interruptions.
What do you think about multi-tasking? Are you an effective multi-tasker? Do you have any tips or opinion on that matter?