Being a good multi-tasker used to be a complement until science proved that there is no such thing. This requires a great mind shift for most people, because our society has grown up believing we are saving time and being more productive when we are doing two things at once.
Today I’d like to examine these ideas:
- Why multi-tasking is not the productive time saver we have believed it to be
- Why better focus is more beneficial for us
Multi-tasking does more harm than good. Our brain is not capable of focusing on more than one task at a time. What it is really doing when we multi-task is quickly switching its attention back and forth. It may seem manageable to compromise that fleeting second or two switching between tasks, but is it always just a second or two? Can even a second be costly in certain situations? I think of drivers that have caused accidents while reaching for items in the car- just a second- and missed seeing another car brake ahead. I will not even delve into the many drivers out there texting whole conversations.
Aside from the dangers of multi-tasking, it has been proven that multi-tasking actually makes us less productive and efficient. The brain does not seamlessly switch back and forth between tasks. It has a “reboot” time each time it switches and our brain is more susceptible to other distractions during that time. You may have experienced this when working on the computer while watching tv with another person in the room. The commercial comes on and you suddenly realize how hungry you are, or you need a bathroom break, or decide to check your phone, all because the commercial signaled your brain that it was break time. Or the other person comments during the show and you find you have typed words they said instead of what you meant to type.
Mindful focus brings more benefits to our lives than multi-tasking. This is the answer to being more productive. Be totally in the moment no matter what you are doing. Eliminate as much distraction as possible. Set one priority for the hour or day that is THE one thing you will focus on, and you will find you do it faster and more accurately than if you multi-tasked. Your brain will forge ahead with clearer thinking and determination to check that item off your list. Decide ahead of time that other things can wait. The text can wait, the caller can be called back later, the break will be a reward when you are finished. Plan shorter bursts of total focus and see for yourself!
Your relationships will benefit from mindful focus. When you are with someone, BE WITH them. Put the phone away. Eliminate distraction. Everyone wants to feel they are worth listening to, and if you are multi-tasking that is a clear message that they are interrupting or being squeezed in for your attention.
Your definition of productivity might need tweaked, and it begins with your to do list. As mentioned before, decide what the major priority for the day or time slot will be, and make that your focus. This means scheduling down time for yourself, as well, and blocking out one on one time with friends. Respect those blocks of time as worthy of your full attention.
I believe you will find that you are achieving your daily goals and experiencing life on a deeper level when you get away from the multi-tasking trap and truly focus, being present in the moment.
Check out these videos for more facts and ideas about multi-tasking: