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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 November 12, 2020

Learn How to Be Productive and Happy With These 11 Tips

Learn How to Be Productive and Happy With These 11 Tips

A lack of productivity leads to a lack of happiness. When you can’t see yourself making progress or getting things done, you get anxious and become stressful. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to be productive.

There are also many things that contribute to unhappiness here: Facebook notifications, emails, texts, and chatty co-workers are just a small fraction of the disruptions we’re bombarded with. These “little things” can stack up fast and lead to hampering your happiness and productivity levels.

Learn how to be productive with the 11 tips below and reclaim your everyday productivity and your happiness, once and for all.

1. Be Happy Now

Life is too short. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, be happy now. Start by finding something to be grateful for; everyone has at least one good thing in their life, and most have many more.

Most of the world still has trouble getting access to clean drinking water…that means you can even be grateful for that bottle of Aquafina you’ve got on your desk right now.

2. Finish Your Day Before It Starts

Proper planning is the secret to peak productivity, and it’s also a good idea to set important goals daily. Get yourself a planning tool and prioritize your daily tasks with it in order to spend your time on important tasks.

If you know exactly what you have to do and the timeframe you want to complete it in, you’ll be well on your way to learning how to be productive.

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Here’s a smart technique on planning and prioritization: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

3. Celebrate the Small Wins

Every time you check off a task from your to-do list, you release a “happy chemical” in your brain called dopamine. This gives you the motivation to move forward and do even more.

For example, after I finish writing this article, and I’ve crossed it off my list of things to do today, I’ll get a nice burst of “happy chemicals” releasing in my brain. The best part? Zero side effects!

4. Leverage Like There’s No Tomorrow

Look for ways to use the 80/20 rule by identifying tasks that you might be able to outsource or leverage out to a virtual assistant.

Stop wasting time doing things that don’t challenge you or ignite your passion. Hire out or automate anything and everything within your means.

Don’t be afraid to trust others with tasks you believe they can do. They’ll likely be happy for the opportunity, and you’ll feel better about lowering the amount of work you have to get done.

5. Recharge Your Batteries

Figure out how many hours of sleep your body needs and make sure you get it. Take time to stretch, walk, or relax in order to recharge throughout the day and after work.

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One study found that the best way to ensure consistent productivity throughout the day is to work for about 50 minutes, followed by a 15-20 minute break[1]. As you’re trying to learn how to be productive, follow this pattern to get started[2].

Take breaks to be more productive

    Here are some simple ways to relax completely and get rid of stress.

    6. Become an Early Riser

    This is one of the most underused productivity “hacks” on the planet. Ever since I decided to start waking up at 5am every day, my productivity levels and happiness have gone up dramatically.

    Most people aren’t up that early, so no one can bother you or disrupt you from what you want to do. A productive person will use this time to exercise, meditate, or get a head start on their day.

    7. Do Work You’re Passionate About

    Make it your goal to blur the line between work and play by doing more things you’re passionate about. This promotes happiness both inside and outside of the workplace.

    Find what you’re passionate about and do it, even if it’s just through a hobby. Make time for the things you love and learn how to be productive more easily.

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    8. Use Time Blocks

    When I wrote this article, I gave myself a one hour time block. This prevents unnecessary dilly-dallying, like updating your social media and checking email. Instead, start developing better work habits and manage your time for a more productive day.

    There are plenty of apps that can help you do this, or you can simply set an alarm on your phone so you know when you can take a break and enjoy some free time. During your set time block[3], do your best to eliminate distractions. Find a quiet space, declutter your desk, and create a short to-do list to keep you on track.

    Time Blocking for Productivity

      9. Avoid Interruptions

      Interruptions are among the biggest barriers to both productivity and happiness. Every time you’re interrupted in the middle of a task, your level of productivity takes a hit.

      We’ve all been there: you’re fully immersed in an important project until all of a sudden the workplace chatterbox appears out of nowhere and starts talking the crazy night they had last weekend. By the time s/he’s gone, you’ve already forgotten where you were, and it takes 30 minutes to get back on track.

      Avoid this by letting people know that you’ve got important work that’s got to be done.

      Learn more about how to stay focus in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

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      10. Shut Down the Digital Disruptions

      iPhones, mailbox notifications, Twitter, Facebook, and everything that pops, slides, or fades in and out of your screen has got to go. Shut them down and focus when you want to learn how to be productive.

      It’s as easy as turning off the notifications or scheduling only a specific time to check all these notifications and texts.

      11. Measure Your Success

      Every now and then, it’s a good idea to measure your results and see how things are coming along.

      How’s your progress? Are you moving in the right direction? It’s always a good idea to track your progress regularly.

      Of course, in order to track you progress, you need to set specific milestones so you know that you’re on your way to achieving any big or small goal.

      The Bottom Line

      With these 11 effective tips, you’ll learn how to be productive and find more time to do the things that make you happy.

      Start small and take up each suggestion one-by-one. That way, you can boost your productivity, and create joy along the way.

      More to Boost Productivity

      Featured photo credit: Emma Dau via unsplash.com

      Reference

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