How Multitasking adversely affects Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
Last week I was teaching a workshop on Emotional Intelligence to a group of senior executives when the topic of Multitasking came up. I’d named “stop multitasking” as one of the ways to increase your Emotional Intelligence, and the room erupted.
I wasn’t surprised; I’ve seen this reaction before. It’s like telling a parent their baby is ugly: stunned disbelief turns to outrage. Then I shared something a former client who was trying to manage ADHD had told me: when you get distracted or interrupted while doing a task, it takes an average of twenty minutes to recover and get back to the level of productivity you were in before the interruption.
A Stanford study proved that people who were heavy multitaskers performed significantly worse at recalling and sorting information and switching from one task to another than people who did one thing at a time. Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers, called heavy multi-taskers “suckers for irrelevancy.” Because they’re so easily distracted, they’re less able to filter out what’s not important than people who were considered light multi-taskers.
Multitasking Lowers your Brain IQ
Not only does multitasking slow you down and waste time, it actually lowers your Brain IQ, according to research conducted at the University of London. That study showed that multitasking lowered the Brain IQs of all the participants, with the men’s Brain IQ dropping 15 points. That drop made them as smart as your average eight-year-old child. I sure wouldn’t want someone like that running my company, would you?
Technology is wonderful, and it has a dark side. Our attention spans have shrunk considerably in the past twenty years, making the lure of multitasking irresistible. That, and the fact that “everyone’s doing it” makes people who consciously choose not to multitask outliers.
Then there’s the very real pressure that people feel. The sense of urgency to get it all done yesterday and the decisions that need to be made on a daily basis involving the running of the business are very real and present aspects in the lives of senior executives.
An antidote to Multitasking: Pomodoro Technique
What’s a busy executive to do? The antidote to multitasking is something we call “power hours” or focus times. You can use the Pomodoro Technique, which is a time management system that breaks the day up in 25 minute increments with 5 minute breaks in between.
Personally, I do “power hours,” which are fifty-minute increments of focused time, followed by a ten-minute break. The average brain can’t focus for more than fifty minutes at a time, and the break creates a state change so the brain can reset before getting back to work. I implemented this several months ago in my own business and saw my productivity go through the roof.
This may require some education and re-training of your team, especially if they’re used to you having an open door policy. We recommend encouraging your team to join you so you can all focus better. Be sure to track your productivity when you try it.