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Want to be productive? Stop multitasking

By Candice Madsen  |  Posted Jul 15th, 2013 @ 10:14pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — We live in a society that seems to force multitasking. Most people do not do it very well, but researchers at the University of Utah have identified "supertaskers".

"But it's only 2-and-a-half percent that are able to engage in those activities simultaneously without impairment," said Jason Watson, associate professor of Cognition and Neural Science at the University of Utah.

As a busy mother and dentist, Michelle Jorgensen used to think she was the queen of multitasking. "I even surprised myself at all the things I could do at once sometimes," said Jorgensen. But the more she multitasked, the more it seemed things just kept piling up on her to-do list. She sought advice from business coach Dave Crenshaw.

"Whenever we engage in multitasking things take longer, we make more mistakes and we increase our stress levels," explained Crenshaw.

Watson said multitasking is a form of dividing attention. "We know that dividing attention at its essence reduces our memory," he said.

The brain switches back and forth between activities and numerous research studies show that creates room for error. But Watson and his colleague David Strayer found supertaskers can actually perform better when doing two attention-demanding tasks at the same time.

"In terms of the brain signatures the loads just don't mean the same thing to them and so it may mean less neuro interference," explained Watson.

However, only 1 in 40 have supertasker capabilities.

Jorgensen now willingly accepts she is no supertasker and deliberately focuses on just one task at a time. "The biggest change is that I am not stressed out all the time. I am definitely in the moment more," she said.

"We live in a society addicted to now. We want things now, now," Crenshaw said. He suggested instead of trying to do everything immediately, schedule time for specific tasks and set reasonable expectations. Don't tell people you are going to call them back as soon as possible.

"Set an expectation. ‘These are the times when I am going to check the voicemail,' " he advised.

He also suggests using your smartphone to save time. Don't check it constantly and eat up time. "At least turn it off when you are working on something that requires your attention, and with your email turn off your email notification."

And when you are talking to a human being, Crenshaw strongly advises giving them 100 percent of your attention. "It is so powerful, especially in a world that is addicted to multitasking," he said.

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