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We’ve Been Wrong About Multitasking All Along

We’ve Been Wrong About Multitasking All Along

Picture this scene: It’s 30 minutes into my workday and I’ve already ticked three things off my To Do list. I’ve got something done about finances, finalized a networking meeting, polished a pitch, and am ready to do some serious writing. Then all of a sudden, my internet connection is down. Whoa! How can anyone get anything done without the internet? After some minutes of panic and ranting, I begin to do what I can, offline. And then, eventually, the internet’s absence reveals some beliefs I had wrong about multitasking because—surprise!—work flows smoothly until the end of a most productive day, despite my not being able to check and respond to messages or quickly research points.

While the ability to work on simultaneous tasks has its merits, knowing where we got it wrong about multitasking gives us control over the work process. Here are 10 things we’ve had wrong about multitasking:

1. It’s not really multitasking.

Multitasking is actually switching between tasks. Studies by psychologist René Marois at Vanderbilt University revealed that when humans attempt to do two tasks at once, execution of the first task leads to a delay in the second task because a bottleneck occurs in the brain’s information processing area. Simply put, the brain cannot effectively do two things at once.

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2. Not all work can be done with multitasking.

Multitasking can only be done when one task is automatic, such as showering or walking. In The Multitasking Mind, authors Dario Salvucci and Niels Taatgen cite reading while mixing a bowl of ingredients and pulling weeds in the garden while listening to the radio as examples of effortless multitasking. Difficulties come up when tasks involve the same brain processing or body part, such as typing and using a mouse (both require the right hand) or driving and scanning a navigation device (both require vision). The most intense conflict is multitasking in the head, where cognitive and linguistic brain processes create interference, such as reading while having a conversation.

3. Not everyone can multitask.

Some people are better at multitasking than others, but they are not necessarily those who multitask a lot. “In fact, the more likely they are to do it, the more likely they are to be bad at it.” This is what Dr. David Sanbonmatsu and Dr. David Strayer, psychology professors at the University of Utah, found in a research study. The study suggests that  people multitask not because they have the ability, but “because they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task.”

4. Multitasking does not save time.

Time-saving is another major thing I got wrong about multitasking. Switching from one task to another or doing two or more tasks in rapid succession uses up seconds. Dr. Joshua Rubinstein, Dr. Jeffrey Evans and Dr. David Meyer conducted experiments in which young adults switched between tasks like solving math problems or classifying geometric objects. They found that multitasking actually takes as much as 40% of productive time.

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5. Multitasking is not efficient.

The study of Rubinstein, Evans, and Meyer additionally showed that multitasking involves more errors that occur from cognitive load in the brain. The brain needs to not only adjust to the second task but also to remember where it stopped in the original task. If counting is interrupted by a second task, you need to reorient and remember where you stopped counting in order to proceed with an accurate count. Errors also occur with activities that involve critical thinking.

6. Multitasking can be dangerous.

Air traffic controllers work with heightened stress levels caused by the strenuous effort required to focus on their tasks. They are aware of the dangerous consequences of one mistake. Near-fatal results can also take place in the medical field, as in the case of a 56-year-old male dementia patient. At a visit during hospital rounds, his attending physician instructed the resident to discontinue his anticoagulation medication. The hospital’s computerized provider order entry system (CPOE) allowed for this to be done in real time. The resident began to enter the order into her smartphone but received a text message from a friend about a party, which she responded to. The physician and resident then continued on their rounds. The resident didn’t complete the entry to discontinue the medication resulting in an emergency open-heart surgery, which the patient, fortunately, survived.

7. A multitasking boss sends the wrong signal.

In her book, The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead, Carol Kinsey Goman talks about leaders’ non-verbal messages. An example of this is a boss who verbally tells her team they are important and are always welcome in her office. Yet, when a team member seeks her out, this boss answers questions while writing an email or shuffling papers and does not make eye contact. Result: the team feel they don’t even get half of this leader’s attention.

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8. Multitasking gets in the way of meetings.

You’d think with all the devices available, meetings would cover more in less time. Attendees should be able to note down their reporting topics and action items. We got that wrong about multitasking too. What usually happens is people lose track of the discussion because they are tweaking their reports or noting down action items. In a productive meeting, the attendees are also mentally present and actively engaged in the discussion. One assigned person takes down the meeting minutes for distribution later.

9. Multitasking dulls memory and the ability to organize.

What we often believe to be memory problems are actually attention problems. You cannot remember later what you do not pay attention to now. Child and adult psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Hallowell describes attention deficit trait (ADT) as a response to our hyperkinetic environment. When an individual is dealing with more inputs than they possibly can, their brain circuits get overloaded. They are unable to stay organized, set priorities, or manage time.

10. Multitasking detracts from relationships.

We justify work multitasking as a means to have more time for our relationships. Well, we got that wrong about multitasking too. As more mobile apps become available for work, chores, and errands, the role of multitasking with mobile phones has reached villainous status. No doubt you’ve experienced the frustration of having a conversation with a partner or a friend that is interrupted by text messages, emails, or actual phone calls. A study by the University of Essex showed the mere presence of a mobile phone—even when not in use—during personal conversations becomes a barrier to closeness, trust, and empathy.

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Why what we got wrong about multitasking is good news.

It’s okay not to multitask. Focusing on one task allows you to finish it sooner and begin the next task. You can also better focus on important face-to-face encounters.

When you need to multitask, you can do it well. Those who do not usually multitask make the best multitaskers, according to the Strayer and Sanbonmatsu study.

You can choose effective task pairings and devices. Have double PC monitors to facilitate research, use foot pedals when transcribing, and listen to select audiobooks while driving.

Oh, and by all means, whistle while you work!

Featured photo credit: Arthur Gebuys via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 20, 2020

The 5 Stages of Getting Over Cell Phone Distraction

The 5 Stages of Getting Over Cell Phone Distraction

“Good morning Sir. It’s 7 a.m. The weather is going to be cool today with chances of light showers.” From this wake-up call to working, cooking, drinking your cup of caffeine-elixir, and working out, do any of these activities involve you without your cell phone?

A mere device of convenience has smoothly transformed to become a major intrusion. With cell phone distraction at bay, the increased dependence on screens has been an alarming phase for your life, maybe more than you care to admit. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if we even stated that this has become a complete addiction.

Considering this addiction, we will be treading with caution. Our approach to its solution will be aligned with the 5 stages of addiction treatment.

Let’s get started with this support group therapy, shall we?

Stage 1. Pre-Contemplation

This is all about denial—a denial that you can’t move your screen away from your eyes, denial that you may have Nomophobia or “no mobile phone” phobia. We completely understand that. But with this stage, it is all about making you realize how strong the addiction is (maybe stronger than Biohazard’s 928mg of caffeine)!

While you might have already internalized the damage, here’s offering some help with your addiction. We would be providing you a holistic idea about the consistent pandemic called mobile distractions and guide you around with hacks to tackle the addiction.

That said, it’s time to dive into the details!

Stage 2: Contemplation – A Peek at Cell Phone Distraction

Look around you. Apart from the N-95 masks and frenzied use of sanitizers, what do you see in common? “Expressions projected at the screen held in front of the eyes.”

It will probably be safe to say that smartphones have become quite the companion, so much that the real companion is often ignored for the virtual ones. You must have come across many memes based on this topic.

Additionally, the terrifying statistics on your cell phone addiction are not going exactly subtle on the massacre that this distraction has become.

Here’s to give you some perspective with the numbers:

  • Average mobile phone users click, tap, and swipe their mobile phones 2,617 times a day.[1]
  • Worldwide phone users have crossed the threshold of 3 billion and are predicted to have exponential growth of several hundred million in the coming years.[2]
  • 61.20% of the globe’s population own smartphones as of September 2020.[3]

While the latter two statistics prove the rising reliance on phones, the first number is indicative of the twiddling-thumb syndrome following the addiction.

Considering your widened eyes over the numbers, we can safely assume that you have moved on to stage 2: contemplation. This stage will let you see the change that you need to undergo to ensure a screen-free healthier lifestyle.

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While we acknowledge the crucial role that screens play for some activities, we believe you can easily do away with some of these engagements, reducing the time consumed to a bare minimum.

Think of the physiological, psychological, and sociological impact. With so much at stake and the distraction breaching all ages, it is time to start on with some hacks to break up this cell phone distraction.

Stage 3 & Stage 4: How to Break Up the Distraction

Let’s not get obvious here. We won’t tell you about the:

  • reduced attention span,
  • potential loneliness,
  • mitigating eye-health, etc.

That’s something that parents all over the globe have been putting out on banners. As a result, these facts are much likely to be considered ‘preaching.’

We, on the other hand, have a greater concern—your cell phones, most likely, are gnawing away your me-time and hence, your creative potentials. That is something that should never be compromised. Thus, it’s time you follow up on the hacks from the pros that have been proven to be effective across all ages.

Here let me fire away the life-altering, screen-shattering hacks that pose as Stage 3 Preparation and Stage 4 Action to cure your addiction:

1. Lean on an App to Track Your Daily Usage of Cell Phones

It would be safe to say that you have some tiny “time thieves” lurking in your mobile phones, crunching and munching away your precious hours. For the hacks, we start with the most convenient one—installing phone usage tracker apps.

Here is a list of the best ones for both the Android and the iOS platforms in 2020.

  • QualityTime – My Digital Diet
  • YourHour – Phone Addiction Tracker and Controller
  • Stay Focused – App Block (Control Phone Addiction)
  • Social Fever App Usage Tracker
  • PhoneUsage Tracker

With either of these apps playing the ‘personal trainer’ or referee, your hours spent on social media platforms and your phone, as a whole, are tracked down. While you check the hours for the first time, beware: the numbers may not be for the weak hearts!

2. Re-Subscribe to Your Hobbies

The price that you pay for your cell phone distraction is your growing distance from your hobbies. While you kill time with your screen-related engagements, you lose the roots of your hobbies.

So, make sure to do the following steps:

  1. List down your hobbies.
  2. Put it up on your headboard or sticky notes.
  3. Start slow on your hobbies.
  4. Set realistic goals, dividing the time spent on your phones and your hobby.

Once you rekindle your old, highschool-sweetheart of love, the attachment with the screen will eventually wither away.

3. Take a Vow of Silence From Social Media Platforms

When was the last time you ate without taking a click or went out with your friends without hashtagging the pic on Instagram? How often do you giggle while scrolling down Facebook feeds or go ‘aww’ at the cute kitty and doggo videos?

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We are guessing, a lot!

The numbers confirm our opinion. As per the World Economic Forum, Millennials spent approximately 2 hours 38 minutes and Gen Z 2 hours 55 minutes daily on social media platforms.[4]

Additionally, if you thought Covid-19 changed Ecommerce only, you are mistaken.[5] The recent pandemic state and its lockdown and social distancing have unfortunately brought you closer to your screens.

The landscape looks something like this:

    So, here is the most challenging hack of all—go nuclear on your social media apps. Before you go AWOL on us after listening to this, hear us out!

    The potential impact of social media platforms goes even beyond the mere time spent on it. You tend to take more interest in others’ lives, ending up comparing that with yours. And this, our ‘friends, Romans, and countrymen,’ has innumerable adversities.

    Remember, even if you delete the apps, you still have your accounts there. Also, if deleting it seems too much of an anxiety trigger, follow up with the time spent (using the apps on Hack 101) and put a realistic cap to it.

    4. Get Your Silent/Do Not Disturb Mode Working Occasionally

    For this hack, acknowledge first the fact that introspection or “me” time is incomparable. The diverse ringtones and tunes emerging from your cell phone are baits that will draw out hours from your life.

    While putting your phone on silent during meals or work meetings is a matter of manners, doing the same at other times means you are just prioritizing yourself. This will help you go back to your old habits and stay away from technological labyrinths.

    5. Set a Realistic To-Do List for the Day Sans Any Screen-Involvement

    How often do we treat ourselves for a great performance at work? Maybe a pizza or a bowl of ice cream? Why don’t you do the same for your cell phone distraction?

    What you need to do is:

    1. Sit down with a daily bucket list before sleeping off at night.
    2. Make sure that the list of activities involves minimum screen time.
    3. Accomplish the listed jobs and then reward yourself with some social media scrolling.

    So, do we have a deal? Get started, ASAP!

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    6. Where Have Your Books/Magazines Gone?

    Ask around, and your last generation will tell you the attraction of the tangible books—the tranquility involved in flipping the pages while your palm hugs a cup of your warm caffeine.

    With Kindles, Ipads, and tablets, that charm is long lost. However, for those looking and determined to dig away from this distraction, we suggest you try this reconnection. Reading, not on screens, but with the physical and tangible books will help you feel grounded and rekindle yet another hobby that will be responsible for your personal growth.

    So, dust the cobwebs off your bookshelf, and get your mind its treat of imagination!

    7. Go Serial Killer on Your Notifications

    Don’t get us wrong! We are not asking you to go all ‘Ted Bundy’ on your notifications but also, can you do that, please? Hear us out before freaking out completely.

    All of your sneaky apps frequently give out tiny beckonings via notifications, reminding you of their existence.

    While being notified is appreciated occasionally, it can surmount to considerable distraction if the phone goes off every 5 minutes.

    The best way out? Turn off notifications, even if for a couple of hours. You will then have the power not to be distracted from your contemporary activity and enjoy scanning through notifications at your preferred time.

    8. Get the Screen Glares Away an Hour Before Sleep

    What’s the best excuse that you put on for keeping your cell phone on your nightstand?

    Let me guess. Alarm?

    Quit the excuse queue, your alarm clock can serve the purpose well! Additionally, you won’t have the ‘convenient access’ to your screen right before you sleep.

    Seems harsh? Follow through and you will experience a sudden and considerable improvement in your daily schedule. Without your phone in an arm’s reach from your bed, you also won’t start your day by scrolling social media feeds.

    9. Go for a Black and White Mode

    OLED or Organic Light-Emitting Diode is the latest call of the display technology in cell phones. With promises of better black themes and incredible pixel-views, the color contrast in this display is too attractive.

    However, it is this color-coding that fetches and attaches you for a longer time on your cell phones. For those seeking to get rid of your cell phone distraction, your best way forward is by opting for grayscale. This makes the screen much less desirable to look at.

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    As of recent, multiple phones come with ‘bedtime mode’ that switches off the phone to grayscale mode. With the color drained from your phone, the social media platforms become immediately unattractive. In case you are seeking a reference, think of the memory Dump ground in Pixar’s Inside Out.

    10. Be Ready for the Withdrawal Symptoms

    Much like any addiction, acting on the cell phone distraction also brings in withdrawal symptoms (read up Nomophobia or “no mobile phone” phobia). While planning to leave your phone at home might seem a brave move, agitations, distractions, stressing out, and getting upset are surefire consequences.

    Considering that cell phones have become the representative for connectivity, staying away from them is a huge stress. Researchers have also gone their distance to say that compulsive cell phone behavior is a resultant of the Pavlovian conditioning system.

    The tune of cell phone notifications somehow sends a signal that some great news is on its way, and you are compelled to check your phone, considering that the notification meets up to your expectation leading to a release of dopamine into your system. With that dopamine release around, your anxiety is sure to kick in. So, prepare yourself for that!

    11. Pro Hack: Embrace Your Smart Speakers

    Do you know that grey pretty piece of technology greeting you with the weather update? Your Alexa/ Siri/Cortana/Google at play via smart speakers? They can be quite the acquaintance when you are trying to get rid of your cell phone distraction.

    Considering that you need the support of your phones to carry out daily activities, you can always rely on screen-less technology. This will help keep the smartphone away from your hands for a prolonged period.

    The Final Stage

    Nearing the end of your addiction recovery, the last stage matters the most.

    This 5th and final stage is all about maintenance or recovery. Don’t let your cellular bridles go loose thinking that you are over your cell phone distraction.

    You can always rely on the ‘hair band technique’ to keep the scrolling thumbs away. Maybe, you will be reminded that those opposable thumbs of yours can do much better—the guides of which you can find in the diverse blogs posted on the site or our social media sites.

    What say, you game?

    More Tips to Avoid Cell Phone Distraction

    Featured photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo via unsplash.com

    Reference

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