The Myth of Multitasking

When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually multi-switching. That is what the brain is very good at doing – quickly diverting its attention from one place to the next. We think we’re being productive. We are, indeed, being busy. But in reality we’re simply giving ourselves extra work.” Michael Harris, Author

Often we have heard people say they are good at multitasking as a source of pride. Multitasking was almost a buzzword for efficiency and effectiveness in the business world. People seemed to aspire to being good multitaskers.

There are certain mundane tasks that we can do while concentrating on another thing or two. Generally, these are rote or habitual tasks that make up our day and do not require our attention. While brushing our teeth and thinking of the conversation we will be having later with a colleague, is a kind of multi-tasking. The part of the brain we use for our thinking is not able to do two tasks at the same time, hence we see the laws being changed about texting or speaking on a hand-held cell phone when driving. We as a society have learned that “multi-switching” can lead to dire consequences.

When it comes to the important things in life, we need to focus on what is important, what requires our attention, and what needs to be done. Recently in a prelude to a meditation, Oprah Winfrey said her day starts with three important questions that helps her focus on the best use of her time. We can certainly benefit from reflecting upon these questions.
The first question is, what is really important? Again the idea of focus on what is it we should be concentrating on as we move through our day. Keeping mindful of the “goal” of the day, ensures that we make the time to work on it without distraction.

Secondly, we need to think of what has to be done? It may not be related to the first question but it does figure into our day. This may be a personal errand or activity that is outside of the working day. It may not seem as important to us, yet it needs to be accomplished. (If we end up not doing it and it didn’t matter then we need to ask, why was it on the list?)
Her third question relates to deciding how much time and attention we will allocate to both questions during the day. This is an integral part of planning our day in a thoughtful and constructive way.

It all comes back to focus on the important parts of our life and rejecting the unimportant aspects. We need to take control and get in the habit of asking these types of questions each and every day.

The scarcity of time is the reason we have to concentrate on one thing at a time.” Matt Perman, Author

This was first published in my Motivated Coaching eMagazine in December 2017.