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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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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

How To Break the Procrastination Cycle

How To Break the Procrastination Cycle

How often do you find yourself procrastinating? Do you wish you could procrastinate less? We all know how debilitating procrastination can make us feel, and it seems to be a challenge we all share. Procrastination is one of the biggest hindrances to moving forward and doing the things that we want to in life.

There are many reasons why you might be procrastinating, and sometimes, it is really difficult to pinpoint why. You might be procrastinating because of something related to the past, present, or future (they are all intertwined), or it could be as simple as biological factors. Whatever the reason, most of us follow a cycle when we procrastinate, from the moment we decide to do something to actually getting it done, or in this case, not getting it done.

The Vicious Procrastination Cycle

For some reason, it helps to understand that we all go through the same thing, even though we often feel like the only person in the world who struggles with this. Do you resonate with the cycle below?

1. Feeling Eager and Energized

This is when you commit to taking a new action or getting something done. You are feeling confident and optimistic that, this time round, you will do it!

2. Apprehension Starts to Come Up

The beginning stages of optimism are starting to fade. There is still time, but you haven’t done anything yet, and you start to feel uneasy. You realize that you actually have to do something to get it done, and that good intentions are not enough.

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3. Still No Action

More time has passed. You still haven’t taken any action and probably have a lot of excuses why. You start to panic a little and wish you had started sooner. Your panic starts to turn into frustration and perhaps even irritability.

4. Flicker of Hope Left

You can still make it; there is a little time left and you ponder how you are going to get it done. The rush you get from leaving your task until the last minute gives you a flicker of hope. There is still time; you can do this!

5. Fading Quickly

Your hope starts to quickly fade as you try desperately to understand why you just can’t do this. You may feel desperate and have thoughts like, “What is wrong with me?” and “Why do I ALWAYS do this?” You feel discouraged, or perhaps angry and resentful at yourself.

6. Vow to Yourself

Once the feeling of anger or disappointment disappears, you most likely swear to yourself that this will never happen again; that this was the last time and next time will be different.

Does this sound like you? Is the next time different? I understand the devastating effect that procrastination has on many lives, and for some, it is a really serious problem. You also have, on the other hand, those who procrastinate but it doesn’t affect them in any way. You know whether it is affecting you or not and whether it undermines your results.

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How to Break the Procrastination Cycle

Unless you break the cycle, you will keep reinforcing it!

To break the cycle, you need to change the sequence of events. Here is my suggestion on how you can effectively break the vicious cycle you are in!

1. Feeling Eager and Energized

This is when you commit to taking a new action or getting something done. You are feeling confident and optimistic that, this time round, you will do it! The first stage is always the same.

2. Plan

Thinking alone will not help; you need to plan your actions. I always put my deadlines one or two days in advance because you know Murphy’s Law! Take into consideration everything that you need to do, how long it will take you, and what you will need to get it done, then plan the individual steps.

3. Resistance

Just because you planned doesn’t mean that this time is guaranteed to be different. You will most likely still feel the resistance so expect this. This stage is key to identifying why you are procrastinating, so when you feel the resistance, try to identify it immediately.

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What is causing you to hesitate in this moment? What do you feel?  Write them down if it helps.

4. Confront Those Feelings

Once you have identified what could possibly be holding you back, for example, fear of failure, lack of motivation, etc. You need to work on lessening the resistance.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to move forward? What would make it easier?” If you find that you fear something, overcoming that fear is not something that will happen overnight — keep this in mind.

5. Put Results Before Comfort

You need to keep moving forward and put results before comfort. Take action, even if it is only for 10 minutes. The key is to break the cycle and not reinforce it. You have more control that you think.

6. Repeat

Repeat steps 3-5 until you achieve what you first set out to do.

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Final Thoughts

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and if you have some deeper underlying reasons why you procrastinate, it may take longer to finally break the cycle.

If procrastination is holding you back in life, it is better to deal with it now than to deal with the negative consequences later on. It is not a question of comfort anymore; it is a question of results. What is more important to you?

Learn more about how to stop procrastinating here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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