For generations, multitasking has been heralded as the cornerstone of a productive life. Displayed like a badge of honor, over 150,00 people still list it as a skill on LinkedIn. There's only one problem—multitasking is a lie.
I'm a recovering multitasker, myself. I used to think doing lots of things at once was the best way to get stuff done. It turns out I was wrong.
It is impossible to perform more than one task at the same time.
When it appears that you are multitasking, what you are actually doing is “switch-tasking.” Your mind is quickly switching back and forth between multiple tasks, each time taking a moment to adjust.
Of course, the exceptions to this are automatic tasks (controlled by the autonomic nervous system) such as breathing and digesting food, but your conscious tasks (controlled through the somatic nervous system) take mental focus.
That delay between tasks means you're wasting time. You would complete each task faster if you worked on them individually.
But it doesn't have to be that way. There is another path.
“Multitasking is a myth, but productivity doesn't have to be.”
The world calls for our attention at every opportunity. There is little tolerance for single-minded focus. But we need it, and the world needs it.
The path to multitasking recovery isn't easy, but it is straight-forward.
1. Commit to a Single Focus
Each day, establish one theme. Narrow your tasks to those that follow your theme, and approach them one at a time.
Your mind takes less time to switch between tasks if they are similar in nature.
Switching between sending emails and drafting a memo, for example, is a quick transition for your mind. If you switch between reading a report and taking phone calls from a client, however, that requires a bigger mental jump.
2. Eliminate Distractions
Pay attention to the distractions around you, and eliminate those you can. Small changes can make an incredible difference.
Whenever possible, disable notifications on your phone. Schedule time for checking email once or twice a day, rather than reading every message as it comes. Use a plugin like StayFocusd to block out distracting sites when you need to concentrate.
3. Practice the Art of Leveling
Professional chefs use a technique called “leveling” to maximize their efficiency in the kitchen. For example, they might put a pot of water on the stove before chopping vegetables for a meal. That way, the water continues to heat while they work on another task.
You probably do this all the time. Have you ever started a big download before leaving the room to grab a glass of water? That's leveling.
The key to practicing leveling on a regular basis is to identify those tasks you can initiate, which progress on their own after that (at least for a while).
Once you've narrowed your focus, and recognize the difference between leveling and switch-tasking, you're on the path to multitasking recovery. Keep going!
Question: Have you recovered from multitasking yet?