Mindfulness Leadership News

9 June 2014

Information Overload or Multi-tasking?

Posted by Laura Payne

Leaders and senior management see multi-tasking as a rites of passage on the journey to the boardroom. Juggling the addictive demands of incessant email, texts and twitter feed, alongside constant meetings, presentations and late nights in the office, must confer a badge of honour in this game of information overload.

Yet, research1 now tells us that trying to cram it all in actually decreases our performance by 40 percent and, as modern day Mindfulness teaches, we are better off focusing on one job well before moving onto the next.

And this is not a gender issue. It’s time to bust the myth that women are better multi-taskers. Juggling home and work life might be tough but privately most women will admit that it’s not that simple and causes much stress.

As you read this you’ve probably received several emails which you’ve quickly skim-read while thinking you can absorb this text properly at the same time. Your brain has also floated away thinking about lunch, this evening or the next job in hand.

We think we are in the moment but we are not. We are increasingly jumping onto the next issue or ruminating on something that has niggled us in the past.

As a result we are constantly in survival mode, processing the masses of information pouring into our brain all the time. In survival mode we quickly get drained as hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flood the system to enable us with our fight or flight response. This mental processing is not only exhausting but takes its toll on our bodies, having to work with increased stress based hormones, and on our minds. In an era with resilience as the management buzz phrase – multi-tasking is paradoxically weakening your defences.

The danger is that many of us are probably on hyper-vigilant levels without realising. All we know is that we are stressed, anxious and, in many cases, depressed, with GP’s are handing out record levels of SSRI’s –antidepressant related drugs - and our general health is showing signs of fatigue. Long-term, medics recognise that this level of stress will be a killer.

To determine the impact of multitasking, psychologists asked study participants to switch tasks and then measured how much time was lost by switching. In one study conducted by Robert Rogers and Stephen Monsell, participants were slower when they had to switch tasks than when they repeated the same task.1

Another study conducted in 2001 by Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans and David Meyer found that participants lost significant amounts of time as they switched between multiple tasks and lost even more time as the tasks became increasingly complex.2

Executives who’ve attended our 8 week Mindfulness programme or Introduction to Mindfulness are reporting how these courses highlight the extent of the issue in the workplace.  When they become more aware of how they live their daily life they are shocked by the overwhelming need to multi-task.

More importantly they are learning valuable skills to countermand the harmful effects of this information overload with simple Mindfulness practices such as the three minute breathing space.

If you want to know more about how to reduce the harmful impact of multi-tasking and gain control over the impact of information overload on your business life please email us on enquires@mindfulnessleadership.co.uk

Mindfulness  - Putting You Back in Control of Your Life.

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