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Last Updated on February 9, 2021

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 skills are based on 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 97.5% of folks that need to accept that our performance will be better when we focus on one task 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 many women have the ability to multitask because we handle multiple tasks at the same time. 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 a 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 updating two laptop computers for new staff to pick up tomorrow, is this a good idea for the human brain?

Are Multitasking Skills Even Special?

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

But look a little more closely at what is really happening with the work at home, freelancing, multitasking phenom of a person that thinks to get all these items checked off his/her list in roughly the same two hours through effective multitasking.

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.

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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.

This is because switching focus leaves more margin for errors in both quality and effort.

Think of our phenom, faking his/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 s/he’s read and reviewed on the subject, thinking of his/her own life, and putting more aspects of what s/he’s been exposed to in each sentence she types.

S/he is putting every ounce of effort, physically and mentally, into the article in a way that may lessen the need for a thesaurus and flipping to search engines to flesh out ideas for supporting points, and s/he can draft it out in a much fuller way with a tone specific to their own writing voice – which is valuable in a world with our internet!

Why Everyone Wants Multitasking Skills

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.

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.

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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.

In short, science has come to the conclusion that multitasking may not be the best way to get things done.

One study found that media multitasking (using two or more media sources at the same time) among college students led to lower GPAs, test performance, information recall, comprehension, and note-taking. The researchers went on to point out that “Outside of the classroom, media multitasking is also tied to poorer classroom performance along with students predicting less confidence and lower scores”[1].

In another study that focused on physicians, researchers found that “Interruptions, multitasking and poor sleep were associated with significantly increased rates of prescribing errors”[2].

The general conclusion seems to be that multitasking increases errors, reduces memory recall, and hurts overall performance on a given task. As it seems to be time to ditch efforts with multitasking skills, here are some things you can do instead.

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.

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

However, 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. We prioritize tasks, delegate tasks, and get things done.

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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 forget to turn on the dishwasher before we sit down to finish that financial report.

Try this:

1. Don’t Fake It

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

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 likely take to complete.

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

Once you decide, check out this video to help you learn how to get into deep work and focus like a champion:

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, and this is where you can utilize some multitasking skills.

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

3. Focus With Force

For the final, big task, we broke it down into chunks, and we see it has seven parts to complete this week. Each part will require your heart, mind, and soul.

When you work it out this way, you will know very clearly which time blocks to protect. It’s 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.

By getting into a flow of focus, your work will begin to reflect who you really are. When you optimize and don’t compromise, you protect the work you do, and it shows.

If you need more help sharpening your focus, check out this Lifehack Fast-Track Class: End Distraction And Find Your Focus

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 and choose what’s most important to us personally. That’s something you can stand by.

More on How to Avoid Multitasking Skills

Featured photo credit: Marvin Meyer via unsplash.com

Reference

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 May 3, 2021

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

How often have you had the experience of needing to make tough decisions that pull you in different directions? You go round and round in circles and, in the end, you either flip a coin or make a snap decision because you’re just too tired to think anymore. Or maybe, you simply put off reaching a decision indefinitely, which is sometimes easier than making a tough call.

Can you relate to this currently? If so, then you’re likely suffering from decision fatigue. Poor decisions are made not because of incapability but because arriving at one or more choices takes its toll—to the extent that it severely weakens our mental energy.

Now that we know what decision fatigue is, let’s explore the primary ways to combat it to enable a stronger mental state coupled with better decision-making.

1. Identify and Make the Most Important Decisions First

If you have a busy personal or work life where many tricky decisions are on the table every day, this can easily and quickly become overwhelming. In this instance, create mental space by initially laying out all situations and challenges requiring a decision. Use a basic software tool or write them down on paper—a notepad file or word document is sufficient.

Once you have your complete list, carefully pick out the most important items needing a conclusion sooner rather than later. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t treat everything as urgent or requiring immediate attention. There have to be some things that are more important than others!

Prioritize and Declare the Appropriate Options

Equipped with your most pressing items awaiting decisions, add another layer of scrutiny by prioritizing them even further. The result should allow you to identify, in order, your most urgent and important tasks without any conflicting priorities.

The last part of this exercise is to highlight all of the options to consider for your most important decision and work through them one by one. With the visual representation of options and most critical decisions out the way first, you’ll be able to think more clearly and prevent decision fatigue from subtly kicking in.

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2. Implement Daily Routines to Automate Less Important Decisions

“Shall I have a healthy lunch today?” “Should I wake up earlier tomorrow?” “What time should I prepare dinner tonight?”

As trivial as these questions appear to be, each one still requires a decision. Stack them on top of other straightforward everyday questions in addition to more significant ones, and things can start to add up unpleasantly.

Small or less important decisions can eat away at your time and productivity. When many other decisions need to be made in parallel, it can lead to decision fatigue. However, there’s a method to avoid this. It involves streamlining aspects of your life by automating repetitive decisions, and this drives the ability to make better decisions overall.[1]

It’s Your Routine—Control It to Create Time for Other Activities

Instead of having to decide multiple times per week if you should have a healthy lunch, create a daily routine sufficiently ahead of time by dictating what healthy food you’ll eat for lunch every day. In doing so, you’re putting that particular decision on autopilot. Your predefined routine commits you to a decision immediately and without hesitation.

Invest time into highlighting all of the trivial and recurring situations requiring decisions daily, then implement a collective routine that relieves the need for you to give them much thought (if any thought at all).

3. Put a Time Limit on Every Decision

Making complex or big decisions increases the risk of draining your energy. This is especially true if you struggle with the fear of making the wrong decision. The doubt and worry bouncing around inside continuously are enough for the majority of people to become fed up and exhausted.

To make good decisions, you need to be in the right position to act. A tactic to deploy is to essentially force yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. What might seem a little daunting—given that it can create a sense of added pressure—actually provides clarity on when you need to conclude since you can see the end in sight.

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Grow in Confidence by Reducing Hesitation

After making the decision, it’s time to move on. You’ll feel good and build self-confidence knowing that you didn’t linger on the choices available.

Only consider revisiting a previous decision if something unexpected occurs that impacts it. If that’s the case, then follow the same process by ensuring you make the revised decision before a new deadline.

4. Seek Input From Other People—Don’t Decide Alone

There’s a time and place to make decisions alone, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to involve others. If there’s any degree of struggle in reaching a verdict, then seeking opinions from people in your network can lessen the mental burden of indecisiveness.

Do you feel comfortable seeking input from other people to help make decisions? Trust and feeling secure in your relationships are crucial to answer “yes” to this question.

Explore the Thoughts of Others and Gain a Different Perspective

An insecure business leader likely won’t trust their team(s) to help them make decisions. On the other hand, an assured and secure business leader realizes they don’t “know it all.” Instead of going solo on all work-related decisions, they install trust among their team and get the support required to arrive at the best possible decisions.

The ability to make a great decision can depend on the information related to it that’s at your disposal. When faced with a difficult choice, don’t be afraid to lean on the relevant people for help. They can offer valid alternatives that are otherwise easy to overlook or hold the key to you making a well-informed decision.

5. Simplify and Lower the Number of Available Options

You’re standing in the store, facing an aisle of more than 20 varieties of peanut butter. You have no idea which one to choose, and although there are subtle differences, they all look fairly similar. No doubt you’ve been in this situation at least once in the past (maybe with a substitute for peanut butter!).

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This is a classic example of having too many choices—an event that makes you prone to decide to do nothing or waste time by continually pondering on which product to buy.

According to the psychological concept known as choice overload, simply having too many options can be disruptive and overburdening, causing decision fatigue.[2] Using the example above, you might make the easiest choice of avoiding any further thought, which often results in the purchase of the wrong item.

Extract Meaningful Information and Evaluate Options With a Binary Outcome

To simplify and lower your range of options, leverage the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the price? The protein content? Whether it has sustainable packaging or a combination of multiple details?

Keep a tight lid on having too many important components. Prioritize if necessary, and implement a binary outcome (of “yes” or “no” / “true” or “false”) to help arrive at decisions earlier, such as defining a limited price range that the product must fall within.

6. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions

Arguably, attention is the currency of the modern world. The ability to concentrate better than the next person can mean the difference between a successful student, a thriving business, a happy parent, and a great decision-maker.

So, how can you improve your attention span to make better choices and avoid decision fatigue? There are many strategies, and one of the most optimal ways is to eliminate distractions. Today, the easiest distractions are a result of technology and the devices running it—all of which are at your fingertips 24/7.

Create Extended Periods of Time to Increase Focus

These distractions might be small or large, but the broader issue is the frequency of them, and they repeatedly cause a break in your focus. Dealing with this while trying to make the right decision can be mentally debilitating.

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Technology distractions commonly relate to email, instant messages, push notifications from mobile apps, and scrolling through social media feeds. Access to all of these technologies and tools must be limited to scheduled time blocks (ideally, using a calendar if it’s during a working day).

Switch off notifications entirely to all of the above to prevent distractions (where possible) when it’s not time to look at them. This enables you to think more deeply and focus for prolonged periods of time, ultimately boosting the chances of making good decisions.

Final Thoughts

Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can deplete energy levels and increase stress. It can affect anyone who has to make decisions, whether they are minor or major ones.

Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication. By applying the best practices discussed in this article, you’ll be on the path to implement valuable changes. These changes will increase your productivity, as well as drastically improve your consistency and ability to make the right choices.

More About Decision Fatigue

Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] FlexRule: Decision Automation
[2] Behavioral Economics: Choice Overload

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