Ah, multitasking – you know the story: it’s what women are supposedly very good at, and it’s the thing all super-busy CEOs and mothers of toddlers do in order to cleverly cram all their errands into their crowded schedules. If you ate breakfast in the car this morning, all while Whatsapping a friend, fiddling with the radio and trying to merge with traffic on the highway, then congratulations, you’re a seasoned multitasker.
But the problem? Maybe you shouldn’t be.
What your mother called ADD and your grandmother called “not paying any damn attention” somehow got the more glamorous title of “multitasking” in modern times – but does doing many things at once really make you any more productive?
Multitasking means different things, depending on who you talk to. But whether it’s rapidly switching from one thing to another or literally doing a few things simultaneously, the fact is you’re not giving your sustained, focused attention to what’s in right of you.
What’s so bad about multitasking, though?
Some researchers have found that multitaskers are better at synthesizing and integrating information. Rapidly flicking from one task to the next puts your brain in a heightened state – but it does depend on what kind of information you’re juggling. Newer research actually suggests that though multitasking might make you feel like a hero, you may actually not be doing so well on those tasks.
Ultimately, flipping your focus all over the place can result in “diluting” your attention, so you end up with several half finished tasks, none of them done particularly well. Multitasking is almost by definition mindless, and can keep your brain in a stressed and scattered state, impacting your memory and concentration.
Do more by doing less
Multitasking is often a bad habit for those who associate busy-ness with effectiveness. But if you’re regularly rushing to do five things at once – it might be a sign you’ve managed your time poorly!
Instead, try something simpler: do just one thing at a time.
If you don’t know whether you suffer from an inability to properly concentrate, you’ll soon find out for sure when you force yourself to sit with one task for an extended period. Write, read, or work on a problem for twenty minutes straight – that means no Facebook checking, no getting up for snacks, no fiddling with gadgets – no distractions of any kind.
This may take time and seem unbearable at first, but stick it out: sustained focus and attention can open up deeper understanding of the task in front of you, and give you the time to develop longer term skills that the more hyperactive among us wouldn’t have the patience for.
Ways to cut down on stimulation
- A big disruption to sustained focus is technology – so take some time to carve out space in your day when no bleeps, bloops or notifications of any kind can distract you. Turn off devices, TVs or even install an app that blocks the internet from your laptop during certain periods.
- Meditate. Nothing sharpens and hones the mind like meditation. Start slow and simple and focus only on your breath. Notice each and every thought that pops into your mind – and then willfully dismiss it. What you’re training yourself to do is be aware of distractions, but have the strength of mind to keep your focus locked on what you’re busy with, no matter what.
- Take an information detox once in a while. Go into nature to “unplug” or chill out and forget about movies, books or music for a while. Just be still and reset your brain.
- Stay mindful. Whatever you do during the day, really do it, with every part of your being. Even if you’re just washing your hands, be fully present and take note of all the sensations. Don’t rush. Blustering through tasks often means you make careless mistakes anyway. Go slow, but steady.
- Delegate. You’re never that busy! Pick three crucial tasks for the day and pour your energy into those. You can get to the rest later, or get someone else to do it. Don’t be a hero and try to do it all at once yourself. Get into the habit of asking where your work can have the most effect, then do that thing.
If you find yourself rushed off your feet, irritable, always working against the clock and doing half-assed jobs, it’s time to stop multitasking. Do just one thing, but do it excellently. Try it the next time you have a few activities on your plate.
You’ll keep your sanity – and be way more effective.