I can remember in the mid 80’s when multitasking really started to be recognized as an enormous benefit. It was proudly listed as a major asset on the resume of every person looking for employment. If you couldn’t multitask, chances are you weren’t getting the job. I suppose it is possible that people were multitasking before that and I didn’t realize it. Maybe it made its way onto my radar then because it was when I graduated and officially became an adult.
My senior year in high school had been pretty easy and as the second half of the year rolled around I started skipping some classes here and there. I had never skipped school before, but somehow felt since I was a senior that I was entitled to skip a day here and there. Everyone was doing it! Needless to say I had a laid back attitude about life at that time.
Then graduation came. I graduated in 1982 and at that time I started college and had a full-time job. It was the first time in my life that I was in a position that multitasking felt necessary. To add to the craziness of my life I got married a month after I turned 19. I jumped into this new grownup world with both feet and never looked back.
After a few years living in the adult world, I mastered the skill of multitasking, (or so I thought at the time). I used it regularly in my job and in my personal life.
Let me set the stage for you. I worked in the banking industry for many years and at the time, I was in the mortgage-lending department of a major bank in Michigan. I had proudly noted multitasking as one of my best qualities when I applied for the job and it worked, because here I was with my own office processing mortgages every day.
On any given day I could be found doing the following tasks all at the same time: Talking on the phone with a customer, pulling someone’s credit report, eating my lunch at my desk, making a note of what to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work, all while noticing that I desperately needed a manicure.
Some of you are laughing your heads off right now because you can totally relate to a similar experience you’ve had. I thought of myself as the self-proclaimed “Queen of Multitasking”. I wore that title like a badge of honor.
Many years have gone by and since that time I have changed my strategies and look at things completely differently. Not because of any one particular incident that led me to believe multitasking was impossible, but because we all gain wisdom as we get older and start to see things more clearly.
I recently read an anonymous quote that really put things in perspective: “Multitasking – The art of screwing everything up simultaneously.”
The truth of the matter is that in the technological world we live in it is easier than ever to get sucked into trying to multitask without even realizing it’s happening. As an example, here I sit writing this blog post. I could potentially have my email open, while listening to music, with my cell phone close by so I could send a text to my husband. Each of these things, on their own, could consume my entire focus, however, if I try to do them all at once it could be considered multitasking.
Just to be open and honest with you, I’ve closed my email. I don’t have the music playing. My cell phone is on vibrate and is in the other room. I want to focus all of my attention on this blog post and the information that I am providing to you. I want that to have my 100% attention because this is an extremely important topic.
There have been many studies done on multitasking and you may find the results astonishing. Researches have found that although it makes us feel good emotionally to believe we are accomplishing several things simultaneously, the fact is it just isn’t possible. As human beings, we just aren’t wired that way.
Here’s a great analogy: “The brain is a lot like a computer. You may have several screens open on your desktop, but you’re able to think about only one at a time.” ~William Stixrud, PhD, Neuropsychologist.
A recent Harvard Business Review post says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress and a 10% drop in IQ. (Berman, 2010) Interesting, huh? As described in the quote above, when we think we’re multitasking it is really our brain switching from one task to another. It is only capable of one thing at a time.
I have been experimenting with this concept for a couple of years now. I have days when I allow the traditional definition of multitasking to guide me through my day. I’ll be working on several things at once all while talking on the phone or texting. Other days, I use a very disciplined format for my day only doing ONE thing at a time. I can honestly say that the days I am disciplined and refuse to be drawn into my old habit of multitasking, my day is much more productive, I feel less stressed and distracted and usually complete every task earlier than anticipated.
It has been a very valuable lesson and I’ve done my research. Understanding how the brain works has put me in a position to be my most productive and creative every day. I still have occasions when I find myself being drawn into the world of multitasking, but as soon as I recognize it I regroup and get focused back on only one thing at a time.
Here are a few tips you can use to resist multitasking so you too can be your most productive:
- At the start of each day make a list of what you want to accomplish.
- Prioritize your tasks based on importance.
- Once the list is made, set a timer for 1-hour and work through your list one thing at a time. Although your list may take longer than an hour, start your day with that hour and stay devoted to your list. Then take a 15-20 minute break.
- Use your break for doing something fun like sending a text to a friend, checking your email or reading your Facebook page.
- Once your break is up set the timer for 1-hour again. Continue the pattern as long as necessary.
The takeaway message here is that no matter what age we are or skill level we have, our brain is only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. Stop resisting how you are built and instead embrace it so you can be the best possible version of yourself. I encourage you to try my method for one week. If you’ve given it a truly fair shot I have no doubt that you will have amazing results and feel less stress and have more energy to be creative.
As I said before, this topic is extremely important. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, family, colleagues and clients. It is a message that should be shared so others will benefit from it as well. The benefits have been proven to improve your health emotionally as well as physically.
I would love to hear about your results or if you’ve already experimented with this before please share your thoughts. Scroll down just a bit and you’ll find the comment section. It would mean a lot to me if you would take a moment to comment below. Your feedback helps to guide me in whatever direction I need to go to continue to serve you in the future.
To your success,
What a powerful article! I remember the craziness associated with being a mom and working an ambitious job. I never stopped until I became exhausted or sick. I wish I’d read your article back then!
Seriously, you’re right. There’s a huge difference when writing an email with all of your heart and mind and just skipping back and forth between tasks. I’ve observed the change in myself when I truly focus as opposed to frantically completing tasks and learned to occasionally turn off the internet. Your article inspires me to make a bigger effort. I’m going to print your list for tasks and try it. Thanks for the nudge.
Julia, it sounds like you are on the right track. It has made such a difference in the amount of work I can actually get done in a day. I also feel better at the end of the day feeling like I accomplished so much. It makes the resting time all that more sweet! Thanks for your feedback.