A few weeks ago I was studying for exams, trying to memorise the definition of a deferred tax asset, while stirring a pot of bolognaise sauce for dinner. All was going well until I suddenly caught myself making a mental list of the ingredients for the sauce, which caused me to forget the accounting definition I thought I had just memorised.
Such is the life of a multitasker, juggling more than one task at the same time, and very poorly I might add.
I decided to put aside my studies and concentrate on dinner instead, focusing my attention on perfecting the bolognaise sauce. Accounting definitions could wait until the right time when I could dedicate myself physically and mentally to the reading required.
Along with being busy, multitasking has become a modern day badge of honour to be worn with pride while doing twenty other things at the same time. Somehow we have equated multitasking with being skilled, organised, and productive, however this is further from the truth.
A 2009 Stanford University study into multitasking found that those who multitasked were easily distracted and had trouble organising and storing information in their brains. Their performance was lower when compared with subjects who did not multitask.
Researchers found that heavy multitaskers also had difficulty filtering information, which meant that subjects struggled to perform tasks as they had difficulty sorting relevant from irrelevant information relating to their tasks.
Think about the last time you tried doing more than one thing at the same time, for example, reading a text message on your phone while you are in the middle of a conversation with someone else. Did you read the message, and then fully return to the conversation you were having, or did your mind continue to focus on the message?
When we multitask, we spread ourselves too thinly- we distribute our efforts, time and knowledge over many smaller tasks. We neglect to focus our attention on the one task, therefore we don’t give fully to what we are doing in the present moment. This leads to spending even more time trying to accomplish tasks that may have been completed more quickly if we had devoted ourselves to single-tasking instead.
What Multi-tasking Is Really Doing To Our Lives
By multitasking, we lose the opportunity of finding the beauty in an otherwise fleeting moment. Our mind is so caught up in the tasks that we are performing that we are distracted from other possibilities- the chance to connect with another person or a lesson that presents itself in a situation.
Multitasking can impact on the quality of our work and therefore our careers- think of times when you have been speaking with a client over the phone and at the same time, have been typing an email. You find yourself not being able to fully listen to your client who is speaking, and you cannot completely focus on what you are typing at the same time. If this was a potential client you were dealing with, you may have missed an opportunity to connect with your client, or to offer something of value. You may have missed the sale!
How You Can Gain From Single-Tasking
Single-tasking is focusing on undertaking one task at a time wherever possible, as opposed to multitasking.
Here are some ways that I have gained from focusing on single-tasking:
-I am not as physically drained as I was when I was working on more than one task at the same time
-My mind focuses less on irrelevant tasks or thoughts, because I am able to prioritise. Yes I get fewer things done each day but I choose things that are of higher importance, and focus more energy on these things.
-I gain more from the present moment- by listening to my daughter read and not doing anything else at the same time, I am strengthening my connection with her. I am also able to correct any mistakes she is making, or can start a conversation about what she is reading, which further extends her learning. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I was cooking dinner at the same time!
-I can invest more of myself into the task at hand, therefore improving my quality of work. By setting aside time to study for exams when I am not being distracted by anything else, I am able to focus more, and absorb more information, leading to a more successful study session.
By prioritising, focusing on the present moment, and investing more of yourself into what you are doing, you can learn to shift your mindset from tackling many different things at once, to approaching each task individually. Retraining your brain to think in terms of single-tasking wherever possible and limiting multitasking, will create a shift in the quality of work that you are producing. Your productivity will, in fact, increase. You will make fewer mistakes, be less busy, miss fewer opportunities and gain so much more by being present in the moment.
Have you made the change from multitasking to single-tasking, and how has this impacted on how you approach tasks? Let me know!