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The Myth of Multitasking

Author: David McGrane

Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and efficient multi-tasking. Don’t tell the kids, but none of them really exist, except in our imaginations. Actually, do tell the kids about multi-tasking. Tell them now. Tell them before they start to see that you do it all the time, and then they start mimicking you, and it becomes a habit. A terrible habit that is so hard to break.

Tell them that it just doesn’t work. Tell yourself, too. Multi-tasking efficiency is a myth, at work and in life. It has been proven. Time and again. Multiple studies have concluded that it is something like 40% less efficient. You are MUCH better off doing one thing at a time, and doing it well.

Of course, it sort of feels good to multi-task. We sort of feel like we are getting a lot done. We’re making good use of our time aren’t we?

No, no we are not.

“Multi-tasking actually negatively affects performance and decreases productivity by up to 40 percent.”

This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise of course. Think about it, when trying to do multiple things at the same time, we are asking our brain to be here and there and everywhere. It sort of makes sense that each of the multiple tasks we attempt to complete in this fashion will get less attention than they would if we did them one at a time.

Right now, for example, I am really enjoying this writing. I am fully immersed in it. The thoughts fly from my mind to my fingers to the screen. I am totally engaged in this task - remember that feeling? I am not just ‘doing’ this, I am experiencing it, I am part of the experience, I ‘being’ this. I am fully aware of right now, I am ‘in’ this moment, not the last one, not what’s next - this moment.

Unitasking works. It works better than multitasking. It produces better quality outcomes and higher productivity. It is better for your overall well-being. You actually finish sooner and the work you produce is of a higher standard. All while also reducing stress (or at least helping to manage it better) because you reduce the mental overload that comes with trying to do multiple tasks all at the same time.

How can you and I and everyone else get back to a more uni-tasking existence in our work and life? It won’t be easy, I am not kidding myself on that, but as I focus, and bring my quieter mind to bear on this task, ideas arise to help us all. I did some research, and I will boil that down for you here.

Here’s what we can do:

One. Start by admitting we do it waaaaaay too much. Commit to removing distractions. Then admit that that won’t be easy, but recognize that like anything, it will get easier over time and with practice.

Two. Have a plan. You do that all the time in work/job-seeking/life anyway right? Do it here too. Have a plan for the day, so you don’t have to be distracted about what all else needs to get done. Then focus on that chunk of the day you have given over to each task.

Now for some people - not all, mind you, but some - it is helpful to plan things the night before.

I think we can all relate. You have had a long, busy day. You’re tired, maybe even a the point of exhaustion. Your head hits the pillow, it’s cool and comforting, your eyes close, and then it happens. Your mind starts to race, like a puppy after a ball. Your mind is chasing a basket full of balls though, balls bouncing everywhere, one here, one there - these are all thoughts about tomorrow, these are things you feel you have to think about, worry about, anticipate. This is your day and all its tasks encroaching on the night before. No, encroaching is the wrong word, this is an all out assault. Less than ideal. I think can all agree.

So what’s to be done? Well as I said, for some of us, not all, this situation might be best assuaged by taking a little time before bed to plan out our tomorrow.

But night time planning is not for everybody - for some planning is a great way to start the day. For you i recommend that as soon as possible, get yourself to somewhere where you can draft up your plan for the day. Try to make it a habit, the same place, the same pen, the same pad, or the same tablet. Sketch it out, take as much time as is needed to form those bite-sized chunks we talked about. You will find yourself fairly readily and consistently starting to feeling focused and energized.

Three. Now we uni-task. With the daily plan you make for yourself at night or in the morning, dedicate a specific time for you to do each task. For example, assign 4 to 5 p.m. for preparing that presentation you haven’t had time to work on, and ONLY focus on completing that task with all of your attention and effort.

Then, you will be able to complete the task efficiently and be satisfied with the end result, and then tackle the next unitasking episode!

“Schedule a permanent day of unitasking”

Three B. With all that you have on your plate, both at work and at home, it may be challenging to plan out each day neatly, every task in its our tidy little box. Expect the unexpected, right? They always pop up. Always! In that case, why not try carving our a dedicated ’Day of Unitasking’ instead/as well?.

On that day make it your goal to unitask more than any other way of doing things. Only focus on one task at a time and really be mindful about what you are doing. It’s a great way to bring unitasking into your work and your life in a viable way. Just watch it become habit on the other days too. Especially once the results of higher quality work, faster, being to show themselves. You’ll be amazed.

Four. Start asking the tough but obvious question - “What exactly do I really need (or want) to be doing right now”? Fight off that feeling of being overwhelmed by all that has to be done. The longest journey starts with a single step. Which single step will help you the most, right now? That’s the one to unitask on then, isn’t it! We all know there can be a disconnect between what we are doing and what we should be doing. Procrastination is every-present. Pick one important thing, do that, move on to the next one. Yes, the third drawer of your filing cabinet does need tidying, but IT CAN WAIT! And it should.

Well, much as I am enjoying writing this, I am done now, and I need to move on to my next units. You should too. Thank you of reading, look to the Job Shop for all your staffing and job0seeking needs, and spread the word - unitasking!

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