Office Life: Why Multi-Tasking is Actually Terrible for You
"For activities that require conscious attention, there is really no such thing as multi-tasking, only task-switching - the process of flicking the mind back and forth between different demands."
Dr. Christian Jarrett
I BET YOU HAVE A LOT ON YOUR PLATE RIGHT NOW.
FROM WORK PROJECTS TO LIFE RESPONSIBILITIES, YOU'RE MORE THAN LIKELY SWAMPED. NOT TO MENTION, IT ALL HAS TO GET DONE SOMEHOW.
Your immediate response is probably something to the effect of "MULTI-TASKING TO THE RESCUE!"
THE ALLURE OF MULTI-TASKING
And although that sounds like a great idea, it never really pans out the way you think it will.
In theory, if you work a little bit on everything at the same time, you should be able to achieve your desired results progressively across the board. This may seem a bit odd at first, but I usually imagine a cartoon octopus to help me out. Each tentacle is doing something completely different - answering the phone, writing, eating lunch. Now, obviously we don't live in a world THAT cool, but the image reminds me that I can't be everything at once. I don't have eight arms.
Mult-Tasking is amazing until you lose one thing - focus.
BYE, BYE FOCUS
The inevitable trouble to multi-tasking is focus, or well, the lack there of. When you multi-task, you're never actually able to focus on anything. You start one task and then suddenly remember something about another. Your mind wanders and before you know it, you're working on task #6, when you still haven't even scratched the surface of task #1!
A lack of focus leads to a loss in efficiency. You can't recall exactly what you were doing so you throw yourself into another task. Or an email drops into your inbox and you immediately get distracted for 15 minutes. Once the fire has been put out, you try to recall what it was you were doing only minutes before. Sometimes it's easy to get back into the task at hand and sometimes it's excruciatingly impossible.
If for nothing else, try and forego multi-tasking because you're losing efficiency, not gaining it. Multi-tasking is a trick; one that you think you're doing well with. I would guess you're not the multi-tasking all-star you believe yourself to be. It took me a very long time to even realize the downsides of leaning so heavily on multi-tasking.
LEAVE IT TO REPETITION
Now multi-tasking isn't evil, but it's very rarely all that efficient. There are some minor tasks that become so repetitive that you can move between them with ease. Take something like your morning routine. You probably have a similar way you get ready for each day. It varies, but it's some combination of shower/bath, breakfast, coffee, commute. Think of all the minor details that you rush through because you've done them thousands of times before. Those are the things to multi-task. You can basically run on autopilot.
Don't multi-task the 'conscious' tasks that you need to be thinking through. If it's not repetitive and second nature, you should separate each task to its own time and give it the focus it deserves. Shut out everything else you can and just get that one thing done.
Your efficiency will go up. You'll get more done. You'll be happier than the multi-tasking octopus you tried to be before.
THIS WEEK'S EVOLUTION:
I want you to run a mini-experiment. This week, instead of trying to do absolutely everything all at once, plan your time into definable tasks or periods of time that you will dedicate specifically to one (and only one) goal.
Because you are focused on just one item at a time, you're more likely to get it done. If you still find yourself too distracted, try and change your environment to help reinforce the task at hand.