Advertising
Advertising

The Ability to Multitask Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

The Ability to Multitask Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

    There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” ~ Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, April 1747

    Everybody I know has too much to do and too little time to get it done. Overstuffed schedules and overlong to-do lists mean many people live those “lives of quiet desperation” where at any given time we’re trying to do several things at once. The infamous ability to multitask.

    Sure, I can cook dinner and help the kids with their homework.

    Advertising

    I can read a magazine and eat dinner while watching the TV shows I’ve recorded on my DVR.

    I can reply to text messages while I drive? (Wait, no I can’t. That’s illegal.) But I can do it at the dinner table.

    I can monitor emails during that business meeting.

    When tasks-to-be-done exceed time-in-the-day, it seems reasonable and efficient to double up on activities. It’s the only way to get it all done, right?

    Advertising

    Right?

    Maybe not.

    Human multitasking, meaning the ability to do more than one task simultaneously, is a myth. Don’t take my word for it. Check out this NPR story and this piece in The New Atlantis. Numerous scientific studies have shown that when we think we’re multitasking, what our brain is actually doing is rapidly switching its focus back and forth among the various tasks. That hyperspeed switching has been found to actually impair productivity and even to temporarily (we hope) lower the multitasker’s IQ.

    But just as important as these is how the ability to multitask impairs the quality of life. Habitual multitasking eventually leads to an inability to relax, to turn off, or to focus on anything for very long. It’s virtually impossible to be at peace if your mind is perpetually jumping among multiple attention-takers. Over time you realize you’re always tense, you don’t sleep well, and–maybe worst of all–the people in your life feel that you’re disconnected and even uncaring.

    Advertising

    While sometimes it’s appropriate, and even necessary, to handle more than one task at a time, it is crucially important to your mental health to create some space in your life when you’re not being pulled in multiple directions. Space for quiet, for peace.

    How? A few things come to mind:

    • For some portion of every day, disconnect from the internet. Completely. Don’t check your email, or Facebook, or Twitter. Don’t play online games. Watch an entire movie without once checking your smart phone. Start with an hour a day and build up your tolerance level until you can stay offline for a full day.
    • Turn off your phone at night or leave it in a different room. I struggle with this one. I have a busy legal practice, with clients who expect to be able to reach me pretty much 24/7. I used to keep my BlackBerry on my nightstand while I slept, and would awaken in the night to check and respond to emails. I’ve abandoned that practice, and now leave my iPhone down the hall, in my home office, at night.
    • Take the weekends off. Although it seems that in my profession we’re never really off-duty, we can safely disconnect from work at appropriate times. On the weekends, I leave my iPhone in my home office while I do other things, checking a few times a day for urgent messages. I no longer keep it within reach at all times. And I haven’t yet lost a single client because of it.
    • Take regular breaks. Read this article for great ideas on how and when.
    • Don’t take your phone to dinner. Put your phone in another room at dinner time, and just spend those few minutes talking with the people at the table.
    • Drive in silence. I have a long daily commute, and I like to use that time to listen to audiobooks or podcasts. But sometimes, I turn everything off and drive in silence, with nothing to listen to but my own thoughts.
    • Spend some time every day, or at least every week, outdoors, with no electronic devices. Sometimes, run without an iPod. Walk without your smart phone. Just you and the birds.
    • Read a book with no music and no TV in the background.
    • Don’t check emails during business meetings. Leave your smart phone or iPad in your office. Unless people’s actual, physical lives depend on reaching you at a moment’s notice (probably only true if you are a doctor or the President of the United States), the world won’t come to an end if you are out of the loop for an hour. So pay attention to what’s being said in the meeting. Take notes on paper if you need to. This is one that I need to work on this week.

    The idea is to be a little more in the moment, and a little less distracted. You will find that as you make it a priority to focus more and “multitask” less, several benefits will accrue.

    First, things that really don’t matter will fall off your to-do list.

    Advertising

    Second, you’ll actually accomplish more (and more high-quality) work on the tasks that have your undivided attention.

    Third, the people you interact with will begin to feel more valued and more “heard.”

    Fourth, you will begin to feel less stressed and more at peace with yourself.

    What do you think? Could your life be improved by focusing on one task at a time? Do you have any tips that you’d add to the list above? I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments below.

    (Photo credit: Working from Home via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Top 10 Productivity Tips to Achieve More and Create Peace of Mind The Ability to Multitask Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be 15 Minutes to Workplace Sanity How to Write a Formal Letter

    Trending in Productivity

    1 Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good! 2 There Is More to Life Than  ____________ 3 10 Steps For Success: Applying The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind 4 How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work 5 How to Live up to Your Full Potential and Succeed in Life

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on December 17, 2018

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    We live in a time of productivity overload.

    Everywhere you turn are articles and books about how to be more productive, how to squeeze 27 hours of work out of every 24, how to double your work pace, how to do more and more all in the name of someday getting out of the rat race. Well this is about the side effects of those ideas. If we aren’t multitasking, we feel lazy. If we aren’t doing everything, we feel like we’re slacking. We compare ourselves to others who we think are doing more, having more, getting more and achieving more, and it’s driving us crazy. We feel overwhelmed when we think we have too much to do, too much is expected of us, or that a stressor is too much for us to handle. And we respond by lashing out with emotions of anger, irritability, anxiety, doubt and helplessness.

    Advertising

    This season especially is the most stressful time of year. Between the holidays, final exams, family gatherings and general feelings of guilt that it’s the end of the year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the things you still need to get done. But if you use these tips, not only will you get the important stuff done, you’ll keep your sanity while doing it!

      Is this you?

      Change your thought pattern-stop thinking negatively

      When you feel overwhelmed, the first thing you do is start thinking negatively or begin to resent why it’s your responsibility in the first place! The first thing you have to do is to stop! Stop thinking negatively immediately. Instead, focus on the positive. If you’re stuck in traffic, think of how great it is to have some time to yourself. If you’re rushing trying to get things done by a deadline, think how lucky you are to have a purpose and to be working towards it. If you’re stressing about a final exam, think of how fortunate you are to be given the opportunity of higher education. After you’ve changed your thought patterns, you must then say to yourself “I can do this.” Keep saying it until you believe it and you’re more than halfway to ending feeling overwhelmed.

      Advertising

      Take a deep breath/change your body posture

      When you’re stressed certain things happen to your body. You start to breath shallowly, you hunch over, you immediately tense up and all that tension drives your feelings of stress even more. Relax! Straighten your posture and take at least ten deep, cleansing, breaths. Force yourself to smile and do something to change your state. It could be as simple as giving yourself a hug or as silly as clapping your hands three times, throwing them up in the air and shouting “I GOT THIS!” Think to yourself, how would I sit/stand if I had perfect confidence and control of the situation?

      Focus on right now

      Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.

      Advertising

      Take Action

      Now that you know what’s most important and what to do about it, do it! Start with the first step and focus on getting that done. Don’t worry about anything else right now, just on what your first step is and how to get it done. Once that’s done with, determine the next most important step and get that done.

      Let go of what you can’t control (the gambler’s theory)

      Seasoned gamblers understand the importance of due diligence and knowing when to let go. The Gambler’s Theory is that once your bet is placed there is nothing you can do, so you might as well relax and enjoy the process. The time to worry is when you’re figuring out the best odds and making the decision of what to bet when you can actually take action. I used this one a lot in college. After an exam, there is absolutely no point in stressing about it. There’s nothing you can do. And the same goes for feeling overwhelmed. If you can do something about your situation, do it, focus and take action. But if you’ve done what you could and now are just waiting, or if you’re worried about something you have no control over, realize that there’s no point. You might as well relax and enjoy the moment.

      Advertising

      yoga-422196_1280
        Relax and enjoy the moment

        Stop feeling guilty

        Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. If you are at your wits end trying to keep up with what you think you should be doing, you aren’t being fair to yourself. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for improvement, just don’t go overboard because you feel like you have to. Only you know what’s really important to you, and your personal success journey so focus on what your top priorities are, not someone else’s.

        Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. The important thing is to realize it’s normal and that you can do something about it by taking focused and deliberate action. Happy Holidays!

        Featured photo credit: Stress Therapy via flickr.com

        Read Next