Did you stay up all night working? Were you busy answering emails on your phone while trying to tuck the kids in bed? If so, you may consider asking for a proofread on that brief you’re turning in this morning, or take a quick glance at the “sent mail” folder from last night.
It turns out that multitasking is as bad as, say, staying up all night or even smoking marijuana, on your cognitive ability. Research shows that multitasking both slows you down and lowers your IQ, reports Forbes.
According to a new study by Stanford social scientists, multitaskers—people who regularly switch between several streams of electronic information—do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” said communication Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to the Stanford Report.
“Everything distracts them.”
Wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking: But I have a special gift—I’m good at multitasking!
Wrong. Students who regularly multitasked performed worse on tests of attention, organization of thoughts, and memory–despite thinking they would do otherwise.
In one experiment, the test subjects were shown images of letters and numbers at the same time and instructed what to focus on. So, for example, when they were told to pay attention to numbers, participants had to determine if the digits were even or odd. When told to concentrate on letters, participants had to say whether they were vowels or consonants.
Multitaskers performed worse at this task than people who prefer focusing on a single task. Even the so-called light multitaskers performed better than the heavy multitaskers.
“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Wagner, an associate professor of psychology, to the Stanford Report.
“That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”
Ok fine. Maybe it’s true that multitasking is bad for productivity. Even still, you’re thinking: But I don’t have a choice!
The practice of law does not require multitasking. Yes, there are multiple tasks to complete. But, you’re not obligated to think of, or work on them all at once.
Multitasking is a state of mind. Multitasking is watching your child’s theatre performance while thinking about work. Multitasking is listening in on a conference call while simultaneously proofreading a legal brief.
Multitasking is composing an email on your phone while you’re listening to an associate update you on a case matter.
If you do these things, you’re severely sacrificing quality for quantity. And the negative effects of multitasking on cognitive ability and IQ have been shown in studies to last long-term.
So, to prevent huge losses in productivity, eliminate multitasking. That means changing the way you work and the way you think. When you have to finish up writing a motion, then turn off your phone and close your email for an hour while you do so.
When you are on a conference call, really ruminate on what is being said—take notes to keep focused.
It sounds elementary and it is! The problem is most people don’t do it.
If you’re a law firm manager, lead by example. Create electronic-free zones in the office. When somebody stops by your office, turn off your devices and turn on your attention to their question.
Consider “e-mail free” hours of the day. For example, from 6pm to 7pm (let’s face it, you’ll still be in the office) when there’s limited (or no) response to email.
If you don’t, your multitasking associates will cost you and your clients money in poor-quality work product and slower deliverables.
Take back productivity at your firm by turning off its multitasking mindset.