Multitasking. It’s part of our go-go-go culture. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to master the skill of multitasking, right?
Maybe you brush your teeth while making the bed. Answer emails during a meeting. Check Facebook while writing a report. Multitasking is a part of our modern world.
But multitasking is a lie – at least in the way we *think* about multitasking.
Sure, you CAN do more than one thing at once. You can walk and talk. You can listen to music while doing your homework. You can text and drive. But your brain can only FOCUS on one task at a time – making the myth of multitasking one of the most dangerous lies of our society. (Especially when it comes to driving.)
Multitasking doesn’t just up your risk of a car accident. Multitasking can keep you from reaching your goals.
That’s because multitaskers think they are being productive. They feel more emotionally satisfied with their work when they’re juggling a bunch of tasks at once. But…The research is in: Multitaskers are actually less productive.
If you think you’re a master multitasker you’re only fooling yourself.
In 2009, Stanford professor, Clifford Nass, was determined to figure out the secret sauce behind supposedly great multitaskers.
His research team divided test subjects into two groups based on how often a student multitasked. In the one group were the “high” multitaskers; in the the second group were the “low.”
Nass was excited to see these high multitaskers get to work as they gave the subjects tasks to perform.
But the reality was startling: The “multitaskers” were outperformed on every measure. As Nass said, “Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”
“Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” – Steve UzzellClick to tweet
What multitaskers are actually doing is fast task-switching.
Neuroscientists have discovered that the human brain just can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. But it can shift its attention at astonishing speed.
Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT says, “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.”
Research indicates that up to 40 percent of productivity could be lost due to task-switching. It takes four times longer for the brain to recognize new things, and retention rates are lower while multitasking.
A better approach to productivity: Focus on what matters most.
In our world where to-do lists are revered and being busy is glamorized, it’s time to take a stand to GO SMALL.
What do you really want from life? What goals do you want to accomplish? What big ideas make you giddy and hopeful?
Focus on the steps that will get you there. And pick one thing to focus on at a time.
A few tips to find focus and get more done:
1. Get rid of distractions.
Never-ending phone notifications, multiple browser tabs open, music blaring in the background. These things may seem harmless but they are vying for your brain’s attention.
When you’re working on your ONE thing, don’t let distractions get in the way. Silent your phone. Close down all other computer applications. Find a quiet space. Focus and give you brain time to do a good job on whatever you’re working on.
2. Know your end goal and work backward.
Focusing on one thing will only get you to your goal if you’re working on the RIGHT thing.
If you’re not clear about where you want to go or what you want to do, it’s hard to know if you’re working on the right thing. If you’re not sure WHAT you want to do – make figuring that out your one thing to work on first.
3. Schedule time for daily/weekly tasks – and stick to it.
A clean inbox, paying your bills on time, getting the kids to school – these things may not seem super important in terms of reaching your long-term goals, but they need to get done.
Schedule small chunks of time to work on these must-do tasks. But watch your time. The whole point is to give your dedicated attention for a little bit and then move on to more essential stuff. If you’re not careful, these simple tasks can overrun your day.
What about you? Do you consider yourself a multitasker? Are you willing to try and focus in on the important stuff? What tips do you have?
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING:
The One Thing, Gary Keller (A must-read!)
Meyer, D. E., Evans, J. E., Lauber, E. J., Gmeindl, L., Rubinstein, J., Junck, L., & Koeppe, R. A. (1998). The role of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for executive cognitive processes in task switching. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 1998, Vol. 10.
Meyer, D. E., Evans, J. E., Lauber, E. J., Rubinstein, J., Gmeindl, L., Junck, L., & Koeppe, R. A. (1997). Activation of brain mechanisms for executive mental processes in cognitive task switching. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 1997, Vol. 9.