Growing up in a fast paced, industrialized world, we often find ourselves rushing from place to place. Distractions are everywhere. Media, entertainment, emails, text messages, phone calls, advertisements, are all just some examples of our distractions on a daily basis. How do we control these distractions that are thrown at us? The reality is, most people don’t. Multitasking in the modern world is a side effect of all our distractions.
MultiTasking at a Basic Level
Most of us multitask without even knowing. For example, how many of you eat and watch TV at the same time? Now I’m not say that’s a terrible thing. In fact, eating requires very little concentration, so watching TV won’t really affect you.
How about more intense activities? Ever had the TV on while doing your homework? How long did it take you to finish your homework? I bet at the time you didn’t really think about this, but it’s there and it makes a difference.
How about answering emails while you’re on the phone with someone? Do you think those were some of the better emails you’ve written? Was the phone conversation flowing and natural?
Imagine Usain Bolt was invited to challenge the current world record. While he runs however, he has to count down from 100 in multiples of 7 out loud. Do you think he’ll beat his best time with that extra layer of attention he needs to pay?
These are just a few examples of how simple multitasking can create huge problems in effectiveness. In fact, there’s a study from Stamford University explaining how multitasking is not only ineffective, but possibly brain damaging! Yes, it may damage your brain. Here’s an excerpt from one of the publishing authors:
You’ve likely heard that multitasking is problematic, but new studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.
Why Multitasking is Less Productive
The reason is actually pretty simple. Multitasking is less productive because you’re dividing your attention. Can you juggle and run at the same time? Probably not. What if you can? You’re probably performing sub-optimally at both of them. In order for you to output 100% optimally, you really need to be focusing on one thing at a time.
Some people feel as if they need to multitask because it’s the only way they’ll get anything done. People who feel that way have a scheduling problem that they don’t know about. Their task management system is flawed and multitasking is a side effect of inefficient time management.
The Power of Single-Tasking
Focusing on a single task at a time has many added benefits. For starters, you’re likely able to get the task done in less time. One of the most important changes is how well the quality of your work is. I don’t know about you, but taking less time to do something and increasing the quality of it are reasons enough for me.
Some people multitask to save time, but doing two tasks at the same time will always take longer and here’s why. If I were to write this article and go through my email inbox, I’ll be in a situation I had to take breaks from each task. Now, instead of gaining momentum and grounding my mindset in one activity, my brain is not committing. Instead, I’m using very minimal mental energy for both.
This will leave me with a lot of half assed emails and a half assed article. Now I’m likely to make more grammatical errors and structural mistakes at both. If I have to go back and spend even more time editing what I created the first time, it’ll end up wasting even more time.
So do yourself a favor and focus on one thing at a time. Not only are you going to end up doing shitty work with both of the tasks you’re juggling, but you’ll end up wasting more time at it as well.
Implementing Single Tasking & Eliminating Multitasking
Your phone is probably the number one offender. Put it away while you’re working. You can also temporarily set it on airplane mode. Another method you can use is listening to white noise or background sounds. If you’re at a noisy office with a lot of distractions, just put your headphones on and listen to the sound of a waterfall or wind blowing.
Another good tool is to set a timer for yourself with a pen and pad ready. Here’s the trick. Time your task appropriately. Give yourself about 20 minutes to work and a 10 minute break. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down on the pad and save it for later. Once your 20 minutes is up, you can switch to the distractions list and tackle one of those.
What that technique essentially does is allow you to focus on one activity at a time. It’s a fantastic way to avoid multitasking by introducing planned interruptions. You’ll switch and focus on one thing at a time.
Give yourself a break from multitasking and see how it changes your life!