Monthly Archives: May 2013

Multitasking: 6 reasons to quit

In today’s fast-paced, techno-crazed world, multitasking is a highly valued skill. When time is short, performing two or more tasks simultaneously – instead of focusing on just one – seems like the way to go.

Multitasking can make you feel important, give you a sense of control, and reduce the pain of a boring task or difficult activity.

But when it comes to true productivity, multitasking fails.

The human brain is a sequential processor: It cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Multitasking is not possible when (1) at least one of the tasks requires focus or effort to complete, and (2) the tasks involve similar types of brain processing.

As Dave Crenshaw explains in The Myth of Multitasking, the most you can do is “switch tasking” (switch back and forth between two or more tasks) and “background tasking” (do two or more mundane tasks like watch TV while you eat or listen to music while you exercise.)

The ability to juggle multiple projects and priorities is key to sustainable success. But it is not to be confused with being an expert multitasker. Having a predilection to multitask can actually fuel problems for you, your organization, your team, your clients/customers, and the community you serve.

Here are 6 reasons to quit multitasking:

1. It gobbles up your time.

The executive who tries to listen to a client on the telephone, check his emails, and give instructions to his assistant all at once might think he is saving time. But because he cannot process three things simultaneously, his attention to each will fade in and out and he will do all poorly.

You lose time when you switch back and forth from one task to the next. Although it might take only a few seconds to stop one and start another, the wasted time adds up. You also lose momentum on any progress you’ve made on the prior task.

 2.    It heightens stress.

Dealing with multiple things at once can make you feel overwhelmed, frazzled and drained. Switching quickly from one task to another overloads your brain and causes it to slow down. This leaves you with more incomplete tasks, which creates more stress.

3.    It makes you more prone to making mistakes.

Studies show that those who try to multitask not only take 50% longer to finish a task, but also make up to 50% more mistakes. Although multitasking is better suited for routine tasks or familiar activities, it leads to errors in all situations.

In Brain Rules, molecular biologist John Medina explains, “Cell-phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies, slower to return to normal speed after an emergency, and more wild in their ‘following distance’ behind the vehicle in front of them.” He notes that talking on the phone while driving is like driving drunk.

4.    It reduces the quality of your work.

Switching tasks requires your brain to refocus and adjust to new stimuli. Full concentration is difficult when you move rapidly from one thing to the next. So the quality of your work suffers.

5.    It does not allow for deep, creative thinking.

Because multitasking keeps your mind busy, drains your energy, and fuels stress, it interferes with creative, higher-level work. When your time is filled with constant activity, interruptions and distractions, you have fewer opportunities to reflect, generate ideas, and brainstorm solutions.

6.    It impairs communication.

If you’re watching TV, typing, texting or dealing with another task, it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with another person. You cannot process fully what is being said.

A few nights ago, I sat down to watch a TV show with my sister, Trish. A scene that involved two characters engaging in dialogue triggered a memory for her. This led her to start telling me a story about her experience.

Instead of pausing the show or asking Trish to wait until the scene ended, I tried to listen to the two characters and her at the same time. Naturally, I was only able to catch a few words here and there. I didn’t really get what any of them said.

I could have replayed the scene or had Trish repeat her story. But such options are not always available, especially when you’re in a professional setting or when you don’t know the speaker very well.

Diffused attention blocks clear communication and mindful listening, which makes it harder to process new information and build true connections.

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A more effective alternative to multitasking is single-tasking (monotasking). This involves performing tasks sequentially, one at a time, with breaks in between. Focusing on one thing reduces mistakes, lowers stress and increases productivity. Rather than divide your attention among multiple activities and various distractions, you can hone in on your top priorities, one by one.

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Photo by: Collin Key

Getting Unstuck

A friend of mine ruminated for months about setting up a website for her butake a stepsiness.

It’s an important project to her. But indecision, competing priorities, and mostly lack of motivation stalled her progress.

The last time we met, she mentioned she had been reading multiple self-motivation books to get unstuck and move on with it.

I suggested she put the books away, stop waiting for inspiration, and just begin taking action.

I gave her the contact information for a website developer (since she didn’t want to figure out the technical aspects herself) and a website designer (in case she needed help with the creative aspects).  I suggested she prepare and gather basic content that focuses on her target market’s needs and strategically positions her business.

A few days later, my friend sent me an email saying, “I’m getting my stuff together for my website – I’m taking action!” She had also contacted the website developer, who gave her some good options to get started. She was no longer delaying the process until she felt inspired to act.

Positive thinking and working through your feelings – although helpful – are not required to get things done.

Yes, you want to be confident in your sales pitch, relaxed during a job interview, or excited to work on a big project. But how do you respond when you think you fall short, or when you feel timid, anxious, or unmotivated?

Various psychological approaches to resolving life’s dilemmas – from eastern-based Morita Therapy to western-based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – hold that you can still make progress, get things done, and live purposely in the face of fear, doubt and discomfort.

The next time you’re unable to psych yourself up or get in the mood to do what must be done, try the following instead:

1. Accept your adverse thoughts and painful feelings without judgment.

Efforts to fix your internal state might cause you to fuse more with it and keep you stuck. Self-help books and inspirational quotes don’t always work. And visualization and affirmations can backfire.

Fighting with troubling thoughts can increase their strength. Striving to wipe out discomfort can fuel avoidance and heighten stress.

Your thoughts and feelings are constantly fluctuating. They come and go. They are largely beyond your control. Don’t allow them to dictate whether you take purposeful action or lead a meaningful life.

Negative emotions aren’t necessarily bad for you; they often serve as useful signposts. By allowing your thoughts and feelings to just be, without attachment or aversion, you can co-exist with them in productive and healthy ways. Let them guide you, not rule you.

2. Take action that is aligned with your true purpose and deeply desired goals, regardless of your internal state.

Distinguish between what you think you should do and what you must do to cultivate your ideal life.

If something isn’t really important to you, drop it and forget about it. Focus your efforts on what’s truly important. Break it down into specific, incremental steps, and set a timeline for when you will complete each step.

Lack of motivation is not a genuine obstacle to taking action. When you move forward constructively, regardless of whether you feel like it, your internal barriers will usually start to dissolve and lose their power. Even if they don’t, you’re still working on purpose and living a meaningful existence.

And by taking action, you receive valuable feedback to improve your road map and refine your direction.

3. Keep track of your progress and the barriers ahead.

Note down the actions you took to get closer to where you want to be. Appreciate the small wins to build momentum for big accomplishments.

Pay attention to where you are now and the obstacles and difficulties you still need to overcome. Choose the right challenges and let go of non-starters.

4. Get honest about how you use your time.

Are you spending your time on busy work or seemingly constructive activities that are not really essential? Are you allowing side projects and minor tasks to distract you? If that’s the case, re-focus your efforts and channel your energy into what matters to you.

Although being in the right mood helps, it’s not necessary to get unstuck. Rather, determine what’s important to you and just get moving on it.

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Photo by: Jelle Druyts