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Published on August 6, 2018

Why You May Want to Ditch Those Multitasking Skills

Why You May Want to Ditch Those Multitasking Skills

Cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists over the world have repeatedly proven that ‘multitasking’ is a myth.

There are about 2.5% of people, according to a test done by David Strayer and Jason Watson from the University of Utah and the University of Denver at Colorado, that are indeed ‘supertaskers’.

The rest of us are in the majority; we are of the 97% of folks that need to accept that our performance will be better when we focus on one thing at a time, or what other researchers have called ‘switch-tasking’.

Basically, ‘multitasking skills’ aren’t actually as real as we thought and when they are real, it’s rare that those skills exist in everyday people. These skills when they do exist in someone makes them a ‘supertasker’.

You may have been told that women are great, natural multitaskers because we think to set the laundry before putting the casserole in the oven since both will take about the same amount of time to finish. Due to the magic of having two tasks completed in the same allotment of time, we have been dubbed with the talent that doesn’t actually exist.

But just because we thought to do those two things above, and write an article while backing up client work on redundant servers and update two laptop computers for new staff to pick up tomorrow – again, because all take the same around the same amount of time to complete, is this an advantage?

Is ‘multitasking’ even a special skill?

Science seems to keep saying no or only for a very special few. But it’s easy to see why we’ve adopted such a mistaken name for getting lots of different things finished in the same allotment of time, and why it has made some people feel special. Heck, it fooled me for years.

But look a little more closely at what is really happening with the work at home, freelancing, ‘multitasking’ phenom of a person (let’s not be sexist), that thinks to get all these items checked off her list in roughly the same two hours.

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And, to be fair, let’s compare them to the person who decides that they will only focus on writing the article for two hours and leave those other items for later.

It will become apparent to anyone that the quality of the article done by the multitasker will be different, and has more propensity to be of lower quality, than that of the fully focused freelancer.

Why is that?

Switching focus leaves more margin for errors, in quality, sure, but from just a physiological standpoint, in actual effort.

Think of our phenom, faking her focus on her article trying to give each sentence its due, while clicking on the backup tab as the client’s data transfers, listening for the oven and laundry machine chimes and trying to think of a snazzier headline than that of the other guy that wrote an article like this one.

Whereas, our fully focused freelancer uses the time to get into a flow, thinking of all the articles she’s read and reviewed on the subject, thinking of her own life, and putting more aspects of what she’s been exposed to in each sentence she types.

She is putting her efforts, physically and mentally, into the article in a way that may lessen her need for a thesaurus, flipping to search engines for fleshing out ideas for points and she can draft it out in a much fuller way with a tone specific to her own writing voice – which is valuable in a world with our internet!

Focus vs Multitask: Which is better?

Well, that depends on your priorities and perspective an, frankly, I am not here to judge the multitasker and tell her she is faking her focus whenever she is trying to handle more than one thing in a given allotment of time.

(I do take issue with anyone claiming she is always going to more successful if she always handles her life this way.)

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And even our fully focused freelancer will sometimes need to glance at her phone for the time, which will pull her ever so slightly from her ‘zone’ as she writes, because she needs to pick up her kids on time.

Why everyone wants to be a multitasker

We all want to optimize our time and give our all to the work and the projects that we love. We all want to make sure that the people we love are taken care of and our environment is one that promotes good work, i.e. my desk clutter must be cleared because it affects how I work.

We all want to make certain we are prioritizing the right things and spending our time the way we intended for the day. At the end of each day we want to know we got the big stuff accomplished.

The only reason the term ‘multitasker’ became so sexy is the desire to optimize our time. If you weren’t one, you were trying to read books and go to seminars to learn how to become one.

Later, it was called out as a dirty word and we started to shout at people if they interrupted us for three seconds because we were giving our work a scary amount of savant-like attention…like a mad scientist disrupted and angry over a quick question about lunch.

Science confused some people, as it sometimes does, telling us for a few years that ‘multitasking’ like a Stepford wife is the thing everyone should be and then realizing that, no, maybe not?

What to do instead of multitasking

People like you and me who want to:

  • Give the best of ourselves to our work and creative projects
  • Get important life and adulting things done each week
  • Have energy left over to not snap at those we love
  • Feel like life is moving forward and we are accomplishing our goals

We OPTIMIZE.

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This means that there are days and weeks when we spend 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM getting five things completed.

But, and I think most importantly, this also means there are going to be more days and weeks where we are being a fully focused mad scientist, giving our all to the one thing in front of us for an undistracted two hours. (Heaven help the person that asks us about lunch at the wrong time on that day!)

Optimization of time takes a skill that we ALL have the capacity to learn and get better at.

This is the skill we need more of and the one skill that can help us truly get the time back that we think we are losing when we forgot to turn on the dishwasher before we sat down to finish that financial report.

Try this:

1. Don’t fake it

What is really the most important three things that need to be completed this week? Are these things able to be completed in the time you’ve allotted for them this week?

If not, don’t lie to yourself about the time you think it will take. Break it down into hour chunks and see how many hours one whole item needs. Then add ten percent more time to each.

That’s the true allotment of time each item will take to complete.

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Now, without faking it, can you finish these important things this week or not? Be honest.

2. Multitask with the mini-tasks

Once you break down the big three things for the week, two of them may have mini-tasks built into the completion of them.

Great! This means you can have the best of both worlds because you can spread your energy during those time allotments to a mini-tasks and something else less urgent, getting those things done during the same time block. Hooray!

3. Focus with force

Now we have that one big thing that’s left. We broke it down into chunks and we see it has seven parts to it to complete this week as well and each part will require your heart, mind and soul.

When you work it out this way, you will know very clearly what time blocks to protect. It’s such an amazing feeling to accomplish work this way, especially when you protect the time around it. It gives you an energy boost just thinking about HOW you will protect it (think mad scientist…)

Don’t you love it when your work is reflecting who you really are?

When you optimize and don’t compromise, you protect the work you do, and it shows. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind!

Start optimizing your time

Tips abound, and the research is extensive on multitasking versus switch-tasking. Prioritization often seems to fall under the ‘time management’ umbrella and yet, the point of prioritizing is to optimize the few precious hours we get in a productive adult life.

Optimizing is really the skill we need most because it forces us to dig deep inside and choose what’s most important to us personally. I’m standing by that.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

Natasha Riley-Noah, EA

Small business advisor for all things related to taxes and compliance, mentoring entrepreneurs all along the US Gulf Coast.

Why You May Want to Ditch Those Multitasking Skills

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Published on April 16, 2019

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

When was the last time you did something for yourself?

Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

So how can you make that happen?

Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

Listen to Yourself

The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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What is your purpose?

Have you ever thought about this question?

Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

Seek Out Continuous Education

Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

It’s Super Practical

Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

“Knowledge is choice.”

Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

Habits Make Your Time a Priority

How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

Your Well Being Comes First

We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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