19 Jul How Multitasking Costs Us
We Can’t Do Two Things at Once
Multitasking costs us. Whatever we think about our multitasking abilities, the consensus in the research community is that multitasking hurts. For starters, the label “multitasking” is a misnomer. We do not multitask. We quickly switch focus back and forth from one thing to another or several other things.
Scientists tell us our brains can focus only on one thing at a time. And when we regularly shift our focus, the constant change in our attention decreases our IQ! How much? By 10 points, which is equivalent to how we function after being up all night. And our productivity decreases by 40 percent!
You might think that if you do it often enough, you get good at it. Wrong. Studies demonstrate that heavy multitaskers are less proficient than light multitaskers. Consider that every time we change focus, we lose time. It’s just how our brains work.
The Cost of Switching Focus
Joshua Render of Agile-Mercurial says there are two “stages” of the cost associated with switching focus. One is “goal shifting,” which is changing the attention of your efforts from one objective to another, and “rule activation,” where you must drop the rules of what you were doing in favor of new ones for the new focus. First, it takes time to make that adjustment. Then, when we go back to what we were doing, we must reassess where we were—time to readjust. The more often we do this, the more time we lose.
Critically, our ability to pick up nuance and detail suffers with rapid focus-shifting—consequently, the likelihood of error increases. And errors bring their own costs. Further, this renders us susceptible to frauds like business email compromise because we fail to pick up on the subtle cues that an email is not legitimate.
Accounts payable departments are disposed to multitasking. For many, it’s part of the job description. And depending on the size and structure of the department, it may be a fact of life. But it shouldn’t be. The costs add up.
While we may be unable to eliminate all interruptions and distractions, it is worth reviewing how often and regularly interruptions occur to see how we may reduce them. (As noted, light multitaskers are better off than heavy multitaskers!)
Consider what kinds of interruptions you experience. Then think about how to manage them better. For example, particularly for those staff with a strong service orientation, it can be difficult not to respond to people or emails. “The director needs this, procurement needs that, and the third vendor this morning just called about their invoice!”
Then, as humans, we are also vulnerable to distraction, and there’s never been a greater temptation on that front than the marvel of the internet! Even as we use it legitimately, it bombards us with ads and clickbait headlines seeking to lure us away.
Analyze the interruptions you experience regularly, then figure out a better way to manage them other than to drop what you’re doing immediately. Look for ways to organize work and schedule. For example, review email at limited times in the day—go through email to prioritize and schedule responses. Then exclude email access outside of those times.
Discuss interruptions and productivity with your manager or director. Alert them to the issue and share your plans. They might offer some helpful input, but also, they have to be on board for your ideas to work.
Relative to the procure-to-pay cycle, vendor relationships present an issue. Vendors need a certain level of procurement and accounts payable responsiveness to sustain smooth relations. But vendors can be a significant source of interruption, particularly to payables, but to procurement as well.
Today, there are tools to reduce significantly the number of interruptions generated by vendors. For example, a self-service vendor portal can remove 70 to 80 percent of vendor inquiries from accounts payable’s queue and make the vendor happy—we all like effective self-service. So we embrace it, provided we can access the information we seek quickly and easily without involving anyone else!
That’s one example. What are the other interruptions that impact accounts payable? Is there an automation solution that can help? Or is the answer found in scheduling? Maybe like IT, we designate an AP help desk, assigning one person to handle incoming emails and manage outside interruptions. Of course, our situations must guide solutions, but it starts with analyzing the problems.
Frequently changing focus, even when we think we’re good at it, is costing us. So let’s reduce that cost.
To learn how InvoiceInfo can help cut down multitasking by removing the majority of vendor emails and calls from AP staff, contact us.