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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 Tax Advisor, Writer, Mother

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Last Updated on August 20, 2018

What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

What separates highly successful people from the “average crowd?” This is a topic that is widely discussed.

If you want to be successful, you have to watch carefully what other successful people do and imitate them. While every successful person has his or her own unique approach, there are a couple thoughts and actions they have in common.

Here are 7 habits many successful people have!

1. They make a difference

If you have an idea, that idea has to change peoples life’s. As long as you’re not helping other people, it’s useless. Don’t start with an activity or business primarily to make money, it won’t work. When you create fans by offering your expertise, they are willing to pay for it. The problem with today’s entrepreneurial mindset is that’s all about “quick” money and not necessarily about making a difference.

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein

2. They focus on productivity instead of on being busy

Do you know those people who always say they can’t meet up with you or help with a certain thing because they’re always busy? I do, and to be honest I was one of them.

When I look back, I don’t actually know with what I was being busy. I thought I was being busy, but now I realize I could have done many things in a much more productive way.

Is 8 hours of work actually 8 hours when you’re checking your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram updates every 30 minutes? It’s necessary to take a rest once a while, but don’t get lost in hundreds of status updates that make you forget about your priorities.

Looking for some tips? Check out this infographic: How to be productive by doing more and working less

3. They keep setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

You can never reach the success you want if you’re not setting goals. The trick is to set up a couple small, achievable goals and a couple of bigger ones. If you only set up huge, unachievable goals, you’ll get unmotivated and fall back into your old mindset. The small goals keep you motivated and give you the feeling you’re being productive once you achieve them.

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Try setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. These goals are concrete and well-defined measures of your progress.

A while ago, I asked a friend of mine what his goal was this year. He told me he wanted a sports car. I told him he will have much trouble reaching that goal because it isn’t specific. He needs to know the brand, the model, the color, what kind of rims etc. Only then he can define how long it’s going to take and what he needs to do in order to buy that car.

4. They take action

There is a big difference between talking or actually taking action. I’m pretty sure you have people around you who’ve said, “This year, I’m going to lose weight, become fit, and look like I’ve never looked before!” Or, “I’ve got such a good idea, I’m planning to start a new business, but first I’m going to do some research,” which probably results in never taking any action.

Many of those people do take action, but the majority do not. It could be many things that keep them from taking action, like fear, no money, or no motivation. The trick is to make a plan and take action right from the start—choose to put in the effort to overcome those obstacles.

5. They exercise and eat right

The better you treat your body, the better you will feel, which results in better results. Successful people take time to prepare healthy meals and work out for at least 30 minutes a day.

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Not having time to work out or prepare a healthy meal is nonsense. If you have time to watch TV or check your social media profile, you also have time to care about your body.

You don’t necessarily need to lose weight or gain muscle, but try to stay in shape and watch your junk food intake.

6. They always step out of their comfort-zone

Successful people are willing to do everything they have to succeed. If they fail, they try it again and learn from it. The vast majority of people think differently and want to stay in their comfort zone.

You can’t expect magic is going to happen when you always do the same things over and over again. You need to step up and start doing new things. The fear of failure is usually the reason that keeps people from acting.

Think about something you’ve done in the past. Something that was so scary that it made you sweat, feel nauseous, or become overly nervous. That could be giving a speech in front of a big crowd or asking someone on a date. In the end, it wasn’t as scary and difficult as you thought, right? And you’ve learned from it.

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Approach everything in your life this way. If you really want to become successful, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” — Brian Tracy

7. They lead

Successful people are also incredibly good leaders. How can you stand out of the crowd if you follow the herd like anyone else does? The main thing successful people do differently is that they think and act differently from the rest. But they do it in a way that creates fans who follow and support them.

You don’t have to be a born leader, but you can learn to be one. An example of a great leader and entrepreneur is Elon Musk. He is the founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Zip2, PayPal, and Tesla Motors. By following his example, you just might find the great leader inside you.

Have these tips helped you? Share them!

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Featured photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via flickr.com

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