Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Multitasking Myth

I remember there being a time when I would put 'multitasking' as a skill on my resume, include it as a valuable asset in interviews or whip it out as a talent. To be able to multitask is often seen as an incredible ability to accomplish many thing at the same time. This is, as far as I'm concerned, completely untrue.

For anyone who has been an ultimate taskmaster, checking emails while chatting on the phone and jotting down notes for a meeting later in the day, you probably know how overwhelming it can get. In an attempt to finish as much as possible in as little time as possible we will stretch our brains by forcing them to comprehend and complete a multitude of different tasks on the same timeline.

This isn't very effective, nor is it healthy. I speak as a true plate spinner. I'm the sort of person who wants to see things done, To Do lists ticked off and tasks completed. Sometimes this overwhelming desire to get stuff done means that I neglect my basic needs and how my body and brain function.

Our brains function much better when they have a single task to focus on. Within one task there may be a multitude of smaller activities which can be done in conjunction with one another, but if it's all related our brains are far better equipped to focus and do it well.

The problem with multitasking is that you may be able to finish many unrelated tasks at the same time but the odds of them being done well decreases with the number of plates you are spinning. It's also a great way to burn yourself out. If you have more tasks to do than is reasonable or possible in the time you have been given, it's up to you to say 'No'.

When you can focus on one task at a time you can accomplish it with skill and care, which means it will be more successful in the long run. How many times have you been working on a few different things at the same time and you find that something you thought was finished actually wasn't because you were distracted - so you had to go back and do it again or work on it some more when you'd already signed it off as complete?

But when you focus and work on one thing at a time you are not forcing your brain to switch gears rapidly. This is beneficial in so many ways. When you're focused you can complete one thing with greater ease, accuracy and skill. It also focuses your body. Your heart rate will remain calm. Your breathing will remain comfortable, instead of becoming shallow, which will give your brain more oxygen and help it to accomplish the task at hand.

Ultimately, you will be able to complete one thing well rather than a multitude of things not so well.

So next time you're feeling overwhelmed or panicky about needing to finish a multitude of tasks, stop for a moment. Consider if you are trying to do too much at once. Remember that your brain works far better when it can focus on a single thing and you are more productive when your body and mind are in a calm and relaxed state.

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