Person multitasking, doing too many things at once

Is multitasking efficient or is there something better?

Are you doing more but achieving less?

Have you ever looked around and noticed that we are embedded in this multi-tasking culture where we are always juggling multiple things at the same time? Whether it’s having a phone call while we’re trying to cook dinner, or we’re doing some laptop work while watching a bit of T.V, we’re always trying to do too many things at once. We are multitasking but it isn’t an efficient use of our time. The most common example of our ‘addiction’ to multitasking is our simple yet repetitive habit of taking our phone with us to the bathroom. (Don’t worry, you’re not the only one!)

It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, we seem to always be multitasking. As a result, what we end up completing is less than we had hoped. More importantly, is the quality of what we achieved as expected?

If you’re playing a game with your child but at the same time trying to think of a solution for a campaign you’re handling at work, are you actually that present in your child’s game? Are you truly enjoying your one-to-one time with them? More importantly, does your child notice that you’re not actually participating much? Do they keep asking you a question and you keep avoiding it because you’re busy thinking? All of these things seem like our normal, daily lives but it has a huge impact on the present moment and cluttering up our minds with too much ‘stuff’ so that we don’t actually ever get to truly enjoy the moments we are living.

Can our brain actually multitask?

For so long it has been accepted that multi-tasking is the way to be productive and get things crossed off our to-do list, that multi-tasking is time efficient and effective. But it isn’t. Have you every actually thought that when we’re multi-tasking, in most cases we’re not actually doing two things simultaneously? We are actually just subconsciously switching from one task to the other and not doing them at the same time. For simpler tasks like walking and talking, yes, we can usually do these at the same time but when it comes to more complex tasks, our minds find it hard to focus on them at the exact same time. Don’t believe me? See for yourself!

Person writing in book
Photo by from Pexels

Multitasking challenge

Grab a pen and paper and just try to write something down while you also sing your favourite song out loud at the same time. (And no, you’re not allowed to write the song lyrics down that you’re singing. You need to write something different!) 

Did you struggle? Was your mind jumping between singing the song well and writing down something that actually made sense or was legible? If you had written down whatever it was that you wanted to write down on its own – and then, after you did this, spent a few minutes belting out your favourite song – you would have produced much better quality writing and singing AND you would have fully enjoyed singing your song. Are you getting the point?

Why multitasking is not actually efficient

Let’s go back to the example of playing a game with your child. You’re not managing to think about the work task and actually take part in your child’s game all that well. Your brain keeps switching from one thing to the other. When you need to interact with them, you stop thinking of your work momentarily. Then, when you’ve played your part, you stop your participating and you go back to thinking about work. And on and on it goes.

This process does not actually help us be efficient or achieve what we want to our best ability. It also does not help us stay present in our day to day lives. 

What is more efficient than multitasking?

Now that we know that multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, what should we do instead? Out with the multi-tasking…and in with the single-tasking! Single-tasking is exactly as it sounds. Your task is one single thing at a time. I know many people will be thinking that they just won’t get enough done this way – but there is a little method to this madness. Don’t just jump into doing something right away. Try to prioritise what tasks are most important and need to get done first and which ones can wait until tomorrow – or even next week!

Once it’s clear what you need to tackle first, focus on that one task only. When that task is finished, start on the next prioritised task. If something else comes up, before you immediately jump ship, think about where this new task should be on the priority list and do it when appropriate. You can even give yourself time limits for each task so that you don’t end up spending all day on some thing. You will hopefully see just how much faster you will get things done when you’re not trying to do them all at once. If you want more in-depth ideas of how to single-task and get things done, especially at work, consider the Pomodoro technique.

The benefits of being a single-tasker

Switching from a multitasking to a single-tasking lifestyle might take a little time to adjust to. We have been multitasking for so long that old habits can be hard to break but stick with it, and some of the many benefits you might start to notice include:

feeling less overwhelmed and more at east mentally
– reduced symptoms of stress

seeing your productivity increase
seeing the quality of your work improve
– learning to prioritise your tasks and feel more organised
– saving time when you’re not constantly switching back and forth between multiple tasks
– making less errors when you focus on one task only
– feeling more present and grounded in what you’re focusing on
– rebuilding your focus and developing your attention span
– enjoying your down-time more because that reward is the task you’ve prioritised (and deserve!)

Of course, in life there are always times when we might not be able to completely avoid multi-tasking (your job, the office expectations, having kids at home while you’re trying to get things done!) but overall, when you’ve decided to be a ‘single-tasker’, you will feel better about the lifestyle you lead. When it comes time to play that game with your child, you won’t feel the need to be thinking about something else and can just enjoy the moment. When you’re watching TV, you’ll be actually watching the TV! And put that phone away! You don’t need to check facebook. You don’t need to read the incoming WhatsApp message. You’re busy. You’re watching your favourite TV show.

At the end of the day, if you start a life of more single-tasking, you will start to feel like you’re doing less…but achieving more.

*Featured image by Serena Wong from Pixabay