It’s so easy to multi task, or to think that we are. There are so many things to be done, surely we can manage a couple of them at the same time right? Not quite.
The truth is that we actually can’t multi task, it is only possible for our brain to process one focused stream of thought at a time. To put information into our short term memory requires focus. The brain later converts the thoughts into long term memory for us to access later. Of course, if they don’t make it through in the first place, we have no way of remembering them. We can’t recall things if we weren’t paying focused attention in the first place.
When considered this way, multitasking is actually wasting our time and we will need to redo what it was we wanted to learn in the first place.
I know many of us think we can and do multi-task, but usually one of the tasks is done on auto pilot. If you are doing something that doesn’t require any sort of concentration, then you can simultaneously do something that does. Even then, we will stop one activity when we want to actually focus our attention. Have you ever noticed how you can be walking, or ironing while chatting on the phone, but as soon as something important is said you immediately stop what you were doing and listen attentively?
For many years, I have been guilty of thinking I was multitasking. As a working mother of six there was usually a great deal going on. What I have learned is that I was switching my attention from one focus to another and then back again.
Another interesting point that research has found, is that those of us who really believe we are good at multitasking are the worst at it. That was me! It was this discovery that prompted me to change my multi-tasking ways.
In business, our biggest hurdle in the way of focusing our attention are the screens. We all attend meetings where phones and tablets are on display and being checked regularly. The truth is that we can’t absorb what is happening if we are checking emails and other sites. It’s just not possible to read and listen at the same time, both activities require brain power.
So the next time someone says “Keep talking, I’m listening” as they check their phone or laptop, they’re not.
While multitasking is a difficult habit to break, it is worth it. I’m the first to admit that I forget sometimes and find myself with a dozen tabs open on the computer and switching between tasks.
Ultimately, multitasking doesn’t pay off. We lose time and productivity and I pick myself up when I’m beginning to feel frazzled. That’s the time that I close all other tabs except the one that I’m working on. When there is a distraction that I must attend to, I switch off from the task at hand and shift my focus. This awareness makes it much easier to bring focused attention back when I do return to what I was doing.
Single tasking is the only way to really get something done in a precise and efficient way. It is a false economy to bundle tasks together and attempt them at the same time.