Most of us pride ourselves in multitasking. The more I think about multitasking, the more I feel that I probably don’t do full justice to any of the tasks at hand. Multitasking, I think possibly arises from distraction. The craze of Social Media, with the likes of Twitter, G+, Facebook, multiple chats (a friend of mine has possibly 35-40 chats going on at the same time …) has amplified our distraction. A study by Clifford Nass et al. at Stanford showed that heavy media multi-taskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory.
Many of us at work read emails and try to respond to them while having a call with a client or a colleague or may be even during conference calls. Surely full focus and attention cannot be given to both these tasks. Why do otherwise intelligent people find it so easy to be distracted from what really matters? Why do we not give attention to the task at hand be it writing a blog, conceptual thinking with regard to one’s business or work or giving our undivided attention to someone who is talking.
In today’s world it is essential to be multi-skilled and multifaceted and the ability to switch effortlessly and effectively between various tasks is imperative. But that is not multitasking. Having said that, let’s look at why we should not multi-task.
1.Research offers neurological evidence that the brain cannot effectively do two things at once -Rene Marois, PhD, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University
2.Effort and results are not linearly proportional. In fact the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule means that in anything a few (20%) are vital and many(80%) are trivial. You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world.
One of my friends, who is a professor in a university, often, asks of his students to push their hands against something heavy and simultaneously solve math problems. In order to solve the simple math problem, the focus on pushing their hands against the heavy weight automatically reduces when compared to doing that activity on its own. He asks them to engage in this activity to prove that multitasking deters productivity.
3.Performance suffers if you attempt two or more tasks that require the same brain functions. Most of us would be comfortable probably reading newspaper and listening to light music in the background. However trying to be an active participant in a conference call and responding to emails simultaneously may not achieve optimal results in either because we use the same cognitive functions of the brain.
“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time” Lord Chesterfield, in a letter to his son in the 1740s.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “The Outliers : The Story of Success”, goes into depth about how all of the geniuses had worked 10,000 hours or more on their area of specialty before they became well-known. You will not be able work for so long unless and until you give full attention. All those who have achieved success credit it to practice and attention. To Quote Isaac Newton-“If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent.”
So how do we get away from these distractions or so-called multitasking:
1. To do list – Take a few minutes every day either at the end of the day before you go to bed or at the beginning of the day to outline and write down the two or three most important things you want to accomplish tomorrow or on the day and the time by which you would like to achieve them.
2. Set a timer every hour. Pause and note all the tasks you are doing at that moment. Ask yourself: Am I doing what I most need to do right now?, Am I on track to complete my 2-3 most important tasks that I had enlisted. How many times in each hour have I walked away from the original activity and checked emails, social media, and fallen prey to digital device distractions.
3. Mindfulness self-training – being aware of the current moment and emphasizing keeping one’s focus on the present moment and reducing distractions. Systematically training your attention for e.g. Meditation or reading a good book and specifically assigning yourself some time each day to these activities will help improve your attention.
4. Life is short and you live once. Give your full attention to people, make them feel they matter. The best gift you can give to someone is your undivided attention.
5. Every time you get distracted or have an urge to do something else other than what you originally set out to do, ask yourself is that the best use of my time? Do I really need to pay attention right now, to the activity that is distracting me?
6. Journaling – our mind wanders during the day since we probably have a million things to do, and achieve, which makes us agitated. Spending few hours a day writing your feelings, your emotions, things to do, ideas, frustrations helps to clear the mind and allows you to concentrate on those that deserves your utmost attention.
How has multitasking affected you, what steps have you taken to bring back your focus and attention? Please share in the comments section.