Do you consider yourself a good multi-tasker? Can you multi task? Think about it for a minute before you read further.
I don’t think there is such a thing as a good multi tasker. In fact, I dont think multi tasking is even possible. Here’s my thoughts.
I try not to take my day job home, but sometimes it is necessary. Wheb I had to do this I would play Netflix in the background while going through emails on my laptop. Multi tasking. Watching a movie while working.
The truth is that I concentrated on neither task fully and I would have been much better off working with no distractions to completely finish my task and then sit down to enjoy something on TV.
The lesson here is that multi tasking does not lead to productivity. Single tasking does.
In other words, we need to concentrate on the task at hand until we have successfully completed it or reached a milestone where we are happy to move on to something different.
This is something we find very difficult to do nowadays. There is so much additional stimulation that we find it difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. Even as I write this I feel the urge to check my smart phone.
In my opinion this is connected to the current smart phone / screen addiction. Maybe the effect of short term gratification from todays technological gizmos are wiring our brains to multi task more. I am willing to bet that multi tasking is a relatively recent phenomenon since the invention of screens and phones.
Todays technology also makes us more accessible to interruptions, forcing us to multi task. In some circumstances these are unavoidable but you can put measures in place like putting your phone in flight mode, closing your door or telling people to f*** off (JOKING – maybe don’t do that, we all about distressing and getting along here).
I think that we are also over whelmed with too much information these days. Too much information gives us too much to deal with and so we feel the need to multi task. The result is that you do not put your full attention into these items.
We also have the illusion that we will achieve more through multi-tasking. The brain rewards us with a dopamine hit when we complete a task but the satisfaction would be far greater if we complete a task knowing that we have given it our full attention.
We also have to deal with the ASAP syndrome. As an experiment in your professional life, take note over the next week of what the response is when you ask somebody “When do you need this?” I am going to guess 80% of the time the answer will be yesterday or asap. This encourages our desire to multi task. Outside pressure forces us to jump straight into action mode, rather than taking a breath to assess where we are at and what are our next actionable items.
The term, “jack of all trades, master of none,” applies to multi tasking. We certainly cannot be experts in anything when we spread ourselves too thin. Jacks of all tasks, masters of none. We are juggling our work load, but just like a juggler, we have a couple of different balls in the air, but we are only touching one at a time. In other words, we may think we are multi tasking but we are actually rapidly switching between tasks. It is this rapid switching which prevents from concentrating fully on any one task.
Put down the balls and pick up one at a time. When we attempt to multi task it may actually take 40% longer than putting our full effort into it. This brings me back to my Netflix / work example. I could have worked single mindedly for half the time rather than splitting my attention between two tasks.
According to Clifford Nass, a communication professor at Stanford, the more we multi task, the more difficult we find to learn, concentrate and be nice to people. I can think of many times where I cut somebody off or was rude because I had too many things going on at one time.
Nass says that if you think you are good at multi tasking, you aren’t. “People who multi task all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.” This is something I struggle with my self. I find it difficult to filter out the irrelevant and shut out the distractions.
Just as practising self control and meditation re-wire our brains, multi tasking also rewires our brain. These scattered habits have a similar scattering effect on our brain and our attention span.
Many studies support the fact that humans cannot multi task, we rapidly shift attention between tasks which does not allow us enough time to give these items our full concentration. This effects our proficiency and dilutes our abilities.
It is my intention to try to devote my full attention to everything, single mindedly, whether it is reading a book, answering emails or having a conversation with someone in a bar. If we take the time to pause, we can clearly define our next goals and the next task we need to address, making it easier to avoid hopping from one task to another and back again in quick succession.
Remember to focus. F.O.C.U.S.
Follow one course until success.
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