Multitasking Literally Hurts Your Brain: Q&A with Time Management Expert Julie Morgenstern

Multitasking is actually bad for our health.

In a world of multitasking and constant distractions –from the ping of texts and emails to everyone having to wear more hats at work than they used to– time management is one of the biggest challenges. We might feel like we’re doing more — and, in a way, we are — but we’re actually get less done in the process. So, is it possible in this day and age to streamline your work style, be more productive and get back some time in your day to focus on big picture stuff, strategy and brainstorming, all of which will make you more effective at your job?  Yes, says Julie Morgenstern, a productivity expert and bestselling author of five books including Time Management from the Inside Out. Dubbed the “queen of putting people’s lives in order” by USA Today, Morgenstern has made it her life’s mission to help people get more out of everyday and find focus in their lives, both at work and at home.  This month marks the launch of her new Circa Balanced Life Planner, a paper-based system for the digital age, designed to help people make good decisions about where to spend their time. Sign us up!

Morgenstern spent some of her valuable time talking to us about the email addiction epidemic, why being pulled in a million different directions and always being connected is bad for the brain, and sharing some great advice for how to manage your time more effectively this year.

Why is multitasking ineffectual?

It has been scientifically demonstrated that the brain cannot effectively or efficiently switch between tasks, so you lose time. It takes four times longer to recognize new things so you’re not saving time; multitasking actually costs time. You also lose time because you often make mistakes. If you’re multitasking and you send an email and accidentally “reply all” and the person you were talking about is on the email, it’s a big mistake. In addition, studies have shown that we have a much lower retention rate of what we learn when multitasking, which means you could have to redo the work or you may not do the next task well because you forgot the information you learned. Everyone’s complaining of memory issues these days – they’re symptoms of this multitasking epidemic.  Then, of course, there’s the rudeness factor, which doesn’t help develop strong relationships with others.


Have distractions multiplied in recent years and, if so, how?  

One is obviously the smartphone, which has made it so that you cannot get away. There are no safe zones where you can actually unplug. You feel like you’re busy and doing something – it’s a chemical addiction. There are so many things we can do through our screens now – stay in touch with friends, do business, entertainment, watch Netflix, do research, create a Pinterest board.  The volume of tasks in our lives that we can now do through a screen rather than tactilely has increased exponentially. It’s more than just email. It’s all the things we can do on screens.

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Barbara Walters once said, “Most of us have trouble juggling. The woman who says she doesn’t is someone whom I admire but have never met.”

We consider ourselves able to juggle a lot of different things both at home and in the workplace (as Jessica is a new mother, multitasking has taken on new proportions!),  but somehow there doesn’t ever seem to be enough hours in a day to get everything done. And in the current economic climate, we, like others, are finding that we have more to do and fewer resources with which to do it.

So how do you make the most of the time you have? With all the modern-day distractions we encounter all day long — from the constant ping of our e-mail in-box to call-waiting and cell phones — it’s amazing we get anything done. While we can’t add another day to the week (we always say it wouldn’t matter because we’d fill up that day too!), there are ways you can manage your time to accomplish more things on your to-do list.  They include:

1. Create an e-mail free zone. According to time management expert Julie Morgenstern, who wrote a book called Never Check E-Mail in the Morning, it’s important to set aside at least an hour each day where you don’t look at your e-mail.  She recommends it be first thing in the morning so you can dedicate that time to working on strategy and big ideas. (TIP: If you don’t open up your e-mail to begin with, you won’t be tempted to look at it.)  Once that hour is up, you can check your in-box and, chances are, very few important messages will have been missed during that time. If you absolutely cannot go an entire 60 minutes straight without checking e-mail, break it up into 20 minute increments where you don’t check for 20, then answer e-mail for 20, then don’t check again for 20 more minutes.
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