The book Elon Musk: Tesla, Space X and the Quest for a Fantastic Future details how Musk narrows the field of prospective Space X employees by requiring candidates to solve intricate puzzles and write essays on why they want to work at Space X. The ones who make it through those challenges earn a face-to-face with Musk and are told not to expect him to stop writing emails or to make eye contact during the interview.
While Musk’s approach could trigger debate about leadership style, professionalism or respect, listening to it on Audible led me to think about multitasking. I’m not sure if Elon Musk is great at multitasking but I am sure that most people aren’t.
Science backs me up. Neuroscientists at places like MIT, Stanford and the University of London have studied how our brains react to multitasking. The results might keep you from scanning your phone while reading this.
We might think we’re doing several things at once when in reality we’re just moving from task to task quickly. When we move from one task to another, we ignore the previous task while we work on the next one. One study showed that our IQ drops between 10 and 15 points while multitasking. Ironically, multitasking makes us less efficient.
It gets worse.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, rewarding the brain for losing focus and for consistently searching for external stimulation. Wonder what’s trending on Twitter?
Multitasking leads to anxiety which raises the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which in turn leads to aggressive and impulsive behavior. You texted WHAT?
Multitasking also causes our brain to burn up oxygenated glucose, the fuel we need to stay on task, making us feel exhausted and more error-prone. Wait, did I hit Reply To All? Oh, no.
Contrary to popular opinion, we aren’t good at multitasking and it’s not good for us. What can we do to avoid multitasking? Focus on Multi-Finishing instead.
5 Ways to Focus on Multi-Finishing Over Multitasking
- Stop saying things like “I’m good at multitasking.” You’re not and it’s unhealthy to keep pretending you are.
- Spend more time doing one thing at a time. Try it. You’ll be surprised at how it works.
- Establish an Email Checking Schedule. Email is addictive. Block off specific times to read and respond and schedule “Non Email Time.”
- Follow these 6 Things to Do With Paper and Email
- Practice being present. It takes discipline and commitment, especially during long meetings. Trust me, I’m working on it.