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The High Cost of Multitasking

Multitasking, the act of juggling multiple priorities at the same time, may seem like a hyper-efficient way to get your work done, but experts say the opposite may be true.

"Many people believe that multi-tasking is the way to go, and it makes them more productive and more efficient. What they don't realize is, multitasking makes them very vulnerable to interruptions, and it actually increases their stress level," says Kristin van Ogtrop, managing editor of Real Simple.

In fact, one recent study by Basex, an information technology research firm, showed that 28 percent of our time at the office is spent with interruptions. Even after the distraction ends, we remain unfocused and scatter-brained. "One of the big dangers of multi-tasking is every time you move from one task to another you lose several seconds or fractions of seconds and over the course of the day—and certainly a lifetime—really add up," says van Ogtrop. "If you're doing something that requires intense focus, it can take you as long as 15 minutes to regain focus."

This loss in productivity costs companies roughly $650 billion a year, according to a study by Workplace Options. Or, imagine, if you're working for yourself, that's like losing $11,000 a year in personal income.

We're all guilty of it. Modern day technologies require that we constantly shift our attention. Computer-users at work, for example, check e-mail or change windows nearly 37 times per hour. And women multitask a lot more than men. "Moms multitask twice as much as everybody, which might partially explain why in a recent Real Simple study we found that 68 percent of people say their of their work lives and home lives don't interfere with each another," says van Ogtrop. "We've become so accustomed to multitasking that we hardly feel it anymore."

Some advice: Try varying the types of tasks you work on throughout the day, ideally working on projects sequentially and to completion.

"Completion is a very powerful concept when it comes to avoiding multitasking," says van Ogtrop. "If you deal with something once, you don't have to deal with it again." Once an hour, take "brain breaks" by standing, stretching, and breathing deeply to flood oxygen to your brain.

If your emails are taking over your life, try checking and replying to your personal email just once a day, instead of all day. Create an auto-reply that lets friends and family know you'll be responding at a certain time—say 3 p.m.—each day.

If you need a little discipline, a new productivity app called "Freedom" costs $10 and blocks your access to the Internet for a set amount of time each day, freeing you from tempting distractions.

Share your ideas for working more efficiently by contacting me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit

This article is part of a series related to being Financially Fit