Were you always trying to do many things at once? Here’s how you can get rid of this bad habit and become happier and more productive. Multitasking – the ability to do several things at once – has in recent years come to be considered an essential skill that should be mentioned in your resume. In a sense, you could say that the more tasks you can do simultaneously (without apparent failures), the more competent you are by friends, colleagues, and superiors.
But lately (especially after pandemics and quarantines), many people have begun to wonder whether we are driving ourselves into a corner by trying to do more and more tasks per unit of time. In addition, recent scientific studies show that multitasking reduces our overall productivity and that it is much healthier, including for our health, to work in a ‘single-task’ mode. So, for example, when working, you should not be distracted by the online casino in India – wait until the end of your shift.
What’s wrong with multitasking?
Multitasking is trying to do several things at once. The problem is that the design of our brains is entirely inconsistent with this mode of operation.
‘Trying to multitask simultaneously is starting to switch from one thing to another quickly. But, unfortunately, this kind of workload doesn’t go away, our brain gets tired quickly, and we get very stressed. In addition, studies show that when we take on several tasks at once, we spend more time on each of them and make more mistakes than if we did them one at a time,’ explains Thatcher Wine, author of The Benefits of Single-Tasking.
For example, if we start replying to email or messenger messages simultaneously during a remote meeting via Zoom, we can easily miss important details or vaguely express our thoughts. Because of this, we have to spend time on corrections, clarifications, and amendments. Constantly switching from one task to another tires our brain promotes exhaustion and emotional burnout and reduces productivity.
Multitasking can also negatively affect our relationships with loved ones. For example, watching TV over family dinner or scrolling through social media updates while meeting with friends deprives us of meaningful communication with the people important to us.
‘Our daily attention span is limited. If we spend it on something unimportant and unproductive, we are left with fewer opportunities to focus on something fundamental and meaningful,” neurophysiologist and psychiatrist Dr David Rubin explains.
Signs of the harm of multitasking
- You have trouble keeping your attention on the task at hand.
- You get distracted easily.
- You often make mistakes or misunderstand tasks.
- You tire quickly, especially in the afternoon.
- You often forget details and details.
- Communication with others seems superficial.
- People around you often demand your attention.
How do you concentrate on one task?
The ability to concentrate is not an innate skill; it must be developed and practised.
‘Single-tasking is the ability to concentrate on one task, complete it successfully, and move on to the next. The key skill here is total concentration on the current activity (whether it’s a conversation, a work task, a workout, or even a commute) and the ability to resist temptation and not get distracted by something else,’ explains Thatcher Wine.
If you’re used to multitasking, living in this mode can initially seem very confusing and unfamiliar. Be kind to yourself; getting used to single-tasking takes time. Imagine yourself as a surgeon who needs maximum concentration on one current task for several hours. Don’t expect to get it right away, but with constant practice, your ability to concentrate will improve.
Tips for focusing
- Turn off notifications on your phone or put it on aeroplane mode.
- When spending time with friends and family, leave your phone in your bag or another room.
- Close your email tabs.
- Set aside time for deep concentration (mark it on your calendar or planner, if necessary).
- When starting a new task, set a period during which you will do only that task.
- Determine what distracts you most often, and try to eliminate these distractions as much as possible.
There are many techniques to help you practice concentration and single-tasking: meditation, mindfulness practice, yoga, breathing exercises, etc. The more you practice doing only one thing at a time, the easier it will be for you to stay focused on the tasks, people, and conversations that deserve your attention.
Multitasking is a myth
Yes, we are capable of doing two things at the same time. For example, we can watch a TV program while we cook dinner or answer an email while talking on the phone.
What we cannot do, however, is concentrate on two tasks at the same time. Multitasking forces our brains to switch from one task to another constantly. The trouble is, it doesn’t know how to do this without loss. So you pay the price every time you interrupt its activity and force it to do something else. There’s even a particular term, “the price of switching,” which refers to the drop in brain productivity when we switch our attention from one task to another.
Back in 2003, researchers estimated that the average computer user checks email once every 5 minutes. After that, it takes the brain 64 seconds to focus on the previous task again. So, roughly speaking, we lose one out of six minutes of our working time just by being distracted by looking at email.
Find your key task
Doing several things simultaneously does not mean doing them faster and more efficiently. The opposite is true: we get the best results when focusing on one thing at a time. Mastery requires concentration and consistency. Therefore, it is necessary to define for yourself one, and only one, priority task for the current day. Of course, we can also plan other things, but the main one must be done at all costs. It is something that is not up for discussion.
When we choose a crucial task, our whole life naturally aligns around it. It is the framework that ‘holds’ the entire routine. So if things suddenly go awry, we are not at a loss to decide what to do and what not to do. After all, we have already decided what is urgent and paramount.
Know how to say ‘no’.
Our society has long fallen into the trap of being “busy” and over-busy. It is a great delusion to think that it makes any sense whatsoever. We start from a false premise: ‘Look how busy I am all the time! How much work I’m doing! So it’s all important!’ It’s as if the conclusion is, ‘I’m critical of myself since I work so much.’
Of course, each of us is important and meaningful in our way. But that’s not what this is about. We delude ourselves into believing that the more work we do, the more meaning there is to it. Meaning only appears when we bring something of ourselves into our corner of the universe.
To do this, we have to become true masters of our craft. Such people have one thing in common. They know how to say “no” to anything that distracts them from what is essential. They are focused on one thing.
We need to say no to busyness for the sake of busyness and say yes to genuine craftsmanship. Do you have a business in which you want to be a master? Have you found that key to each of your days? If you don’t devote yourself to something that is most important to you, you will just be wasting your energy.
Zuella Montemayor did her degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.