I bet you came across this blog as you were scrolling LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram. I am also assuming that I only have a tiny bit of your attention. You are probably also eating, listening to a meeting or podcast, and your kids or pets are also begging for your attention. Am I right?
We really want to be efficient multitaskers. We want to do it all and do it well. We truly believe that our colleagues, bosses, friends and spouses are doing a great job of handling multiple tasks at once. And, truth be told, they go to great lengths to make it appear that way. But, the truth is, our brains were not designed to multitask. You are working against mother nature when you attempt this and in reality, you will take longer to complete your tasks, they will contain more errors, you will retain less information about the tasks you performed and your stress levels will increase. So, really, what is the advantage?
There is no advantage to multitasking. That is clear from decades of research. One study showed that efficiency dropped as much as 40% when multitasking efforts were performed! Another study showed the prolonged multitasking actually lowered IQ of study participants to the level that researchers might have expected had they just smoked a joint. The same study also indicated that multitasking lowers EQ levels in the areas of social-awareness and self-awareness. Emotional intelligence is a predictor of workplace and leadership success. So, please, stop it if you want to get ahead!
The reason why so many of us attempt multiple (often contradictory) tasks at once is under the guise of speed and efficiency. Your thought process might go something like this, “If I can just type this email, while finishing this podcast and getting in my 50 squats at my standing desk, I have achieved three minor tasks at once and I will be ahead of the game before that 8am meeting.”
It’s an understandable mindset and it is logical but, unfortunately, it is biologically incorrect. What actually happens in this situation is that your brain oscillates back and forth between the three tasks and so you slow down as you move between each task and your brain takes extra time to re-orient to the new task each time you make the slight shift between listening to the podcast and constructing a sentence. But let us just say you did all three of these things at once and it felt good. That’s possible. But according to research, if we were to go back and check your accuracy or retention of information, the flaws would become apparent.
Your email would likely have typos and you would not be able to share what you learned from the end of the podcast. You may also have sore muscles from rushing through your squats and therefor your form might be off. So, yes, you may feel good about your accomplishments, but they would not be your best work. And, if this is how you always operate, your performance will be less than stellar, and you will not be impressing anyone!
So, now what? As with all habits it will take time to re-train your brain. It will also take effort, intention, grit and focus. All of these things will feel out of reach, at least initially. You will wonder if you can do it. Here is the thing… You can do it and you should do it.
Once you are more intentional and mindful in your endeavors, you will see why it was worth it. Your colleagues, superiors and friends will notice the change in your vibe, mood and energy. Instead of the distracted and always irritable version of you that they have become accustomed to, they will notice that you are calm and present rather than ungrounded and absentminded. They will also notice that you are more accurate with your tasks and more approachable in your mood. All of these positive changes will likely help you achieve those goals that had you multi-tasking in the first place.
If you are seeking a promotion or a lateral move in your company, being known as grounded and focused will stand you in good stead against your disorganized, overwhelmed or moody co-workers. While you and your competitors may have similar work experience and training, your mood and overall pleasant vibe will be attractive to leaders in your industry or company. It’s well known that formal training and skill set are only one small part of making a hire. Leaders and recruiters are also assessing personality and non-verbal cues to see if you would be a good fit for their specific team, company culture and industry. Once you start slowing down and becoming more efficient with your energy, everything you do becomes more effective.
It is easy to see how slowing down and being intentional with your time will also work well at home. Whether you are living the single life or balancing a family with small children or an empty-nester, everyone benefits when you let go of multi-tasking. When you are with your spouse, try to be just in that moment. Put down the phone or the mental to do list or laundry basket and just be present in that one conversation. If you are with your baby or dog, just play with them- making good eye contact, smiling and laughing. Even babies and pets know when they are missing your full attention. When you are planning a vacation or filing tax returns with your life partner, just stay there in that one conversation without interruption. Turn off your phone notifications and email pop-ups, you will not need them if you are making an effort to complete one task at a time.
Notice how your relationships improve with this intentional act of being present, mindful and focused on one person at a time. Implore your loved ones to try this with you. Pay attention to how it feels when your partner is focused just on you rather than when they are multitasking. And pay attention to how it feels to know you are giving your family 100% of your attention rather than 1/10 of it!
With the start of a new year upon us, it is traditional to review the year we’ve had and set goals for the year ahead. It’s a good time to think about what is working in your life and what’s not. It’s also a good idea to see if the things you are doing are influencing your life the way you had hoped they would. As I said at the beginning of this article, we multitask because we want to be effective and efficient. But, despite our wishes, multitasking makes us slow, inaccurate and forgetful. So, if you want a different result, try a different tactic. Give it 60 days and see how it feels after a few months. Assess, reorient, work through the challenges and let me know how it goes.
If you want help with organization, mindset shifts or living with the consequences of adult ADHD, working with a life coach and psychotherapist, like me, can help. Life is challenging and seeking expert guidance is a wise decision for many people like you. Whether you are working through a major life transition, changing careers or simply want a change of pace in your life, I can help. Complimentary consultations can be booked at: https://marylandtherapycarrie.com/contact or by calling me at 443.951.3986.