This weeks pondering?
Is Multi-tasking actually a skill worth cultivating?
My kitchen needs tidying, I think I will start with the dishes, but the wash bowl and sink need a scrub first, so I will just boil the kettle as we don’t have any hot water, actually, while I am doing that, I may as well make a coffee …where’s my cup gone? It’s in the front room; I’ll just go and grab it… What a mess! I’ll just pick these shoes up and put them in the hallway… whose bag is this dumped here? Looks like Hannah’s; I will just run upstairs and put it in her room. Oh look, dirty clothes, I will just gather those for the laundry. I head back to the kitchen. What was I doing again? Oh yes, a coffee…
I am doing EVERYTHING but NOTHING is getting done!
This is the myth of multi-tasking. I am a scientist* so let’s back this up with some studies and stuff :
What we think: If we do five jobs at once we are being five times as productive.
Why it is wrong: When we ‘multi-task’, what we are actually doing is switching between a number of jobs quickly, and each time we do that, our brain needs to reconfigure. This costs time, energy and is actually less efficient in the long run.
What we think: If I do it all together, at once, then I can relax.
Why it is wrong: Stanford University conducted a study on 100 students and their multi-tasking media use (for example: texting, while watching the TV). During the experiments they found that the high multi-taskers were unable to ignore things; they couldn’t filter out things that were unimportant and were poorly organised. It found that rather than making life easier, multi-tasking increased stress and had a demonstrable effect on both productivity and the mood of the participant.
What we think: People who multitask are super organised or memory wizards who can do magic!
Why it is wrong:
Back with those pesky studies again I’m afraid! A 2011 research study from the University of California discovered that the quick task shifting involved in trying to multi-task actually impairs the short term memory. When a multitude of information is always in front of you, some multi-taskers don’t feel it necessary to memorise things, and together with being overloaded by irrelevancies, this often makes it harder for them to remember things.
So, what are you saying Polly?
When you try and do too many things at once, you are not focussing. If you don’t focus, you aren’t really connecting with the task. If a job is worth doing it is worth your full attention. When you multi-task you are dividing your mind onto several things. It is inevitable that this could lead to mistakes, to additional stress and – because your mind is never fully on the task at hand- it will have an impact on your creativity; your brain can’t be expected to come up with new ideas when it is already split up over a number of other tasks.
So what can I do?
Concentrated Activity. If you have a number of similar jobs to do, such as pay bills, or emails to answer, then try to do them all in one block. You will get into your ‘zone’ because the work is similar and will probably complete the tasks quicker than if you mixed them in with other jobs throughout the day.
At your Best. Work out when you are at your best; I am a morning person, but for you this might be different. Try and organise your task list by putting the more creative tasks, like writing blog posts, at this time. If you have the time to dedicate to your task, you can combine this with the ‘concentrated activity’ suggestion above to increase your productivity.
Take a Break. Differentiate between tasks to reset your brain with a break – a break where you actually do nothing! No crafty email checking! Give your mind a chance to catch up and refocus on the new task ahead.
So my take away for this pondering is to remember this acronym – because everyone loves an acronym!
How will you make your life less stressful and more productive today?
*Technically a scientist – I have a Bsc & a PGC in Social & Cultural Theory which totally makes me a (social) scientist…