Would you rather multitask or focus, to get things done faster?
On multitasking, focus, cognitive abilities, and getting things done…
Like many of you I have a to do list that’s never ending.
And the other day, on top of this, I realised that one of my email addresses had a problem, and I “discovered” about 200 mails that I never saw before. Important mails. You know, from serious people, like my bank, and so on.
So suddenly I had my normal to-do list and… Many other things that needed attendance like, yesterday, or even last month.
I began to read them and tried to mentally organize them in my head. And I had now plenty of proprietary tasks.
Temptation to multitask on a scale of one to ten at that time? One thousand!
Beginning to read a mail, click on the link, realize… No, wait, wait, wait. The other one seemed more important! Going back to the e-mail.
I was trying to keep ten thousand things in my head and, and began to notice my sympathetic nervous system getting super activated.
That was a mess!
So I stopped.
Why not multitask? It gets things done faster, right?
The word multitasking, comes from the computer world. But even computers don’t really multitask.
It looks like they’re doing all of these things simultaneously. They don’t. They have a pile of tasks coming from all the different apps and process, and go through the pile one task at a time… Very, very fast.
To us, it looks like they are doing many things at the same time. But really, even if it’s just like fractions of seconds, they are doing just one thing at a time.
But as we humans are naive and way slower, it looks like they are performing all these tasks simultaneously. 😉
Multitasking, even for computer, is shifting the attention very, very quickly.
The biggest problem is we are humans and we are not able to hold so many information in our head.
Remember this magic number I mentioned in the podcast about attention deficit disorder? Seven plus my or minus two piece of information, that’s what we can hold in our working memory.
Let’s be optimistic and say we have plus two. That is seven plus two: nine. Nine bits of information in our brain.
That’s not a lot for multitasking, is it? No, it’s not.
So is it still OK to multitask?
Maybe with things that really almost don’t require attention, like cleaning your house, or washing the dishes. So maybe washing the dishes while listening to a podcast, OK. You might still notice
that you missed some information in the podcast, though, but OK.
The cognitive consequences of multitasking
Many of us are used to multitasking, just by the way our life is built today, our devices, the apps we use, everything is inciting us to multitask.
It has been researched and studied, and the results are quite interesting:
Multitasking is switching from one task to the other, of stopping what we are doing to do something else, and something else, and something else, so it gets us into the habit of getting distracted.
It also makes us worse at distinguish between what is priority and what is not. So we tend to let our-self be distracted, whatever happens.
Whereas when you focus on just one thing, you will get better at ignoring distractions that are not important.
Multitasking increases distractability, and makes us worse at sorting out information from detail.
When we multitask, we have to hold so many information in your head. It’s a lot like mental clutter. And studies show that the more we multitask, the worse we get at being mentally organized.
Multitasking makes us worse at getting things done
Obviously that is not inductive to being productive. So while it might look like you’re getting more done in less time, actually, that’s quite the opposite.
What is fascinating is that this happens not only while we are multitasking, but for people in the habit of multitasking, that continues even when they don’t multitask. Even when they focus on one task, their brain are less effective and less efficient.
How can we multitask efficiently?
It’s really simple.
Since you can’t work simultaneously on different tasks, instead, get really good at optimizing the way you work on tasks sequentially, one task after the other: optimize your concentration, your focus.
How do you do that?
First, get things out of your head.
Seven plus or minus two piece of information in your head, that’s not enough. So use paper, use your telephone, use a todo list app, whatever works for you, but get things out of your head.
A great thing about that is also that it helps you prioritize things.
And then: focus on one thing at a time.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but you will get things done quicker and way
better if you do one thing at a time.
And it’s not only that, but you will stay in a comfortable, active state.
Multitasking is overwhelming. It’s putting our nervous system in a sympathetic mode, over activated.
It’s easy to get drained when we are multitasking, and it’s easy when we stop, to feel still activated and have problem resting or sleeping.
But if you focus on one thing at a time, you will have a more balanced energy over time, not drained, and you will sleep better. You won’t need so much time to calm down afterwards, to a restorative state.
What to do instead?
Today and just for today: What do you need to do?
And what should you get done first?
Do that. Only that.
You don’t even have to necessarily finish it. Maybe you actually need to do different tasks over the day, that won’t get done today and that you will continue tomorrow and so on.
But can you see the difference between working on four tasks in the day or ten task in five minutes?
When you decide to do something, decide to do it for a block of time, and do that and only that. Then at the end of the time, you can do something else.
Notice how fast you can work when you focus on just one thing.
Notice how active yet relaxed your nervous system is and stays when you perform in that way.
Enjoy your new productivity and efficiency.
Resource cited in the podcast: Attention deficit disorder
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(Intro music for the podcast: “Tiny people”, by Alexei De Bronhe )