I think by now most of us have heard that multi-tasking is a bit of a myth. Our brain isn’t able to focus on two things simultaneously. What we are actually doing is also known as micro-tasking, where we switch backwards and forwards between short tasks really quickly. Sometimes it happens with activities like talking on the phone and trying to write an email at the same time. Really hard to do. How many times have you typed the content of the conversation you’re having on the phone instead of what you were meant to type. Or even worse, talking on the phone, driving a car and trying to figure out where you are going. For most of us our days are filled with these kinds of activities.
So what happens when we are trying to switch back and forwards between all the multitude of tasks that we are trying to get done? Simply put, it makes you less effective and exhausted. By constantly context switching (a term borrowed from the IT world) you lose productivity because you end up spending more time storing where you were at with the old task, then switching and trying to re-focus your attention on the new task. It is tiring!
I am a micro-tasker from way back. And I have been finding myself less and less effective. Having kids put a whole extra layer of tasks that need to be done which meant that being frazzled is becoming an everyday occurrence. It is a really hard habit to break. Distractions are a killer to single-tasking but I’m working on it. It’s like giving up smoking (yes, I was a smoker) , I know it’s bad for me, I resolve to give it up and then something happens and I go back to my old ways. So I’m working on my single-tasking techniques.
- Turn off notifications – including sounds and vibrations. Change your expectations of others too. Don’t expect to get a response immediately and if you really need one, call them or heaven-forbid, go over and talk to them
- Have my top 3 ‘To Dos’ – not 200 – I still have a list of all the things that need to be done, it’s just not on my home screen. I scan it every now and then to make sure there is nothing that has become a priority but my attention goes to my top three and the list is not allowed to go beyond three.
- Set fixed times to work on things – This is a tough one because people have expectations that we will be working on multiple things at once. At work and at home. This goes along with time boxing. If you have something that needs longer focused attention, book it in, set expectation of those around you and yourself that this is the only thing you will be working on for that period of time.
- Say ‘no’ – You can’t do everything, it’s OK to say ‘no’ or even ‘not right now’.