Over the course of my career (and I’m sure you’ve heard this too) I’ve had people ask me questions that sound like:
- How do you handle multitasking
- How do you properly multitask
- What’s a situation where you had to multitask
The answer to all of these questions is I don’t multi-task.
Because multitasking automatically means that you’re not giving 100% to what you’re doing, which means the quality is hindered right away.
The Psychology Behind Multitasking
When you’re multitasking, you feel like you’re getting more done. You have all of this work in front of you, so that must be you’re doing more, right?
Multitasking raises a significant risk to productivity. Think about it for a second. Have you ever talked on the phone while checking email or on a cell phone while driving? If the answer is yes, can you honestly say that you were giving 100% to each?
You can’t because that’s impossible.
The same rules apply to any work you’re doing. When you’re attempting to do two, three, or more things at once, you’re essentially giving each task 20-30%. That means that not only are you not being effective, but you’re also almost putting ZERO quality into whatever it is you’re doing.
Psychologists have proved when they were studying cognition (mental process) that when people try to perform more than one task at a time can’t do both at 100%. Our mind and brain weren’t designed for multi-threading tasks.
Joshua Rubinstein, Ph.D., Jeffrey Evans, Ph.D., and David Meyer, Ph.D. confused experiments in which young adults switched between different tasks (heavy math problems, geometric objects, etc.). What they found was each participant loses more time as they try to switch between tasks and even more time when the task was complicated.
Distractions Take Up More Time Than You Think
In the previous section, you learned that a few very popular researchers already cracked the case of context switching. However, this context switching takes up way more time than originally expected.
Gloria Mark from the University of California dedicates her research to digital distraction, a very important study in 2021. According to the confirmed studies, distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction, it impacts you after. It can derail your mental progress for 24 minutes and 15 seconds. In other words, I’ll just check Twitter or I’ll just take a quick look at my email can make you unfocused in the conscious and unconscious mind for almost 25 minutes.
No wonder why everyone thinks the world must work 12 hours per day… because we’re too distracted and once we stopped being distracted, we have to wait almost 30 minutes to get back to 100%.
What does this mean for the quality that goes into our work?
How The Brain Works If You Try Not To Multitask
Let’s say you’re a multitasker, yet you attempt to do one thing at a time. The attempt will fail unless you practice and create a good habit around not multitasking (yes, not multitasking is a good habit).
Clifford Nass, Researcher at Standford University proved that even when chronic multitaskers focused on a single task, they were less efficient. Nass concluded over time that frequent multitasking changes the way the brain functions, leading to decreased productivity even when focused.
How do you change it? With practice.
You have to make NOT multitasking an atomic habit, as in, it must be ingrained into your everyday lifestyle before you see the results.
You can create these habits by doing the following:
- Less social media open while you’re working
- Focus on one task at a time
- Don’t have multiple tabs open
- Go to bed early
- Work in silence
- Have a set schedule
- Don’t look at your phone or even keep it next to you
- Don’t constantly check email
At this point you may be thinking to yourself well, what do I do then? The answer is scheduling your work.
If you have 3 important things you need to get done that day, don’t attempt to do them all at once. Schedule a few hours for each task and then execute.
Google Calendar is great for scheduling blocks of work.
How To Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking typically occurs because there is a sort of panic that something needs to get done. When you’re talking to someone that has a task you need to do, they’ll always make their task sound more important. If someone assigns you a task, and another person assigns you a task, the second person probably makes it clear that they want their thing done first.
Because humans are selfish and it’s embedded into our mind that whatever we have going on is more important than whatever someone else has going on.
How do you fix this? It’s simple really.
Realize that not everything is a fire. If everything is important, then by definition, nothing is important. If there’s a deadline, ask what the deadline is for exactly. Why? Because a lot of deadlines are usually just made up on the spot without an actual, logical reason.