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So You Think You Can Multitask? Think Again.

So You Think You Can Multitask? Think Again.

According to Nick Bilton, lead technology reporter of the New York Times, the common held belief that multitasking is impossible is “media hype”, noting that the ability to multitask “depends on what the tasks are”. All experienced drivers are able to drive and talk at the same time. Most mothers are able to talk, cook and clean at the same time, but the question remains: Are they actually multitasking?

Broadman’s Area 10

Many people believe that multitasking is the only way they cope in our world of task and information overload but the reality is that the brain is incapable of actually focusing on two things at the same time. A frontal part of the brain called Broadman’s Area 10 is supposedly responsible for the brain switching from task to task, and whereas we may think we are multitasking we are actually getting good at switching from task to task more seamlessly.

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The current generation have seemingly started to use this part of the brain better than the previous generation, as switching from homework to Facebook, to using Skype on their phone are normal daily activities. Bilton says that our brains are adapting, not evolving but adapting to the increased stimulation that modern life brings. Video games may also be responsible for the development of multitasking capability in terms of attention, hand eye coordination and visual and spatial problem solving.

What is Possible?

So what about the people who say it is possible to watch television, send emails, tweet and have a conversation with their partner all at the same time? Well, these people are simply task-switching.

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And what about those who can drive and talk on the phone, or dance and sing or rub their bellies and pat their heads? In these examples one of the two tasks has become somewhat automated. Driving or riding a bicycle are perfect examples of how the brain works in the background. We no longer have to focus on what we are doing to arrive home safely. Although if something out of the ordinary happens, our brain must focus back on the driving to ensure all is well.

I recently saw Bilton speak at the Dublin Web Summit and at least 70% of the audience tapped away at their laptops, iPads or smartphones while he spoke. Some were note-taking, some were checking out his book or his website, and others were busy tweeting, blogging or communicating online in some form or another. I’m sure most attendees thought they were listening to the talk, but I believe that their attention was split and not all would remember what was said. They inevitably had to experience the “zone in” and “zone out” of task-switching to some degree.

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What is Multitasking?

The term “multitasking” originated in the computer engineering industry. It was used to explain how a microprocessor can seem to process several tasks simultaneously. But in order for a single core processor to process tasks it actually has to “time share” the processor. Only one task can be processed at a time, but these tasks are rotated many times a second. With a multi-core processor, each core can perform a separate task simultaneously.

So the idea that we can work on more than one thing at once is actually a fallacy. In keeping with the original meaning of multitasking, we now know that the multiple tasks that we are attending to are actually sharing brain time. And there is always a price to be paid when switching tasks.

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Some research has shown multitasking to reduce productivity by 40%, but like everything in life it depends on what tasks — and the importance of full focus while doing it.

Conclusion

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere” –  Seneca, Spanish-born Roman Statesman and philosopher

If the tasks you are doing are relatively unimportant or mundane and don’t require undivided attention to complete, multitasking can help to get more done. But if you have an important job or one that requires particular attention or care, the best solution is to stay focused on it (and, at the very least, turn off your phone).

After all, it is necessary to be actually where you are in order to achieve the best results.

More by this author

Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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