Multitasking – the idea that we can pay attention to multiple complex tasks at the same time, is a myth. We can only pay attention to one complex thing at the same time. Therefore, multitasking means that you do many things badly and take much more time to do them.
As life gets faster and faster, we are expected to do more in less time and to become multitasking experts. That creates stress and anxiety, and we never get to really focus on what we are doing at the moment. When we are hurried and stressed we lose focus on what we are doing, we become self-conscious and worried about the outcome. When we are bombarded with too much information, we are unable to function effectively. Stress is going up and the performance is going down. Multitasking is a big part of the problem and, actually, an illusion, because our brain processes information one after another.
What happens when we multitask?
When we do two or more things at the same time, our attention goes from one process to the other, because we are physically incapable to process two complex stimuli at the same time. That just creates the illusion that we are doing two things at the same time, because when we multitask, if our attention is on one thing, it’s not on the other thing. Moreover, we lose time as we switch our attention from one task to the other – back and forth. As a result, we also lose the flow of the activity we are engaged in, we make mistakes, and we become stressed out.
When we try to do multiple things at the same time such as driving and talking on the phone, or answering email during a meeting, we constantly switch our attention from one complex thing to another. That actually means more stress and reduced performance. When we are working on a task and thinking about the other 7 things we have to finish by the end of the day, we lose focus on the thing we are doing and we create anticipation, pressure, and anxiety.
How do we break the multitasking habit? How do we deal with distractions? How do we maintain attention to what is important to us?
Learning to deal with distractions – a background noise, the sound of an AC, a phone ringing in the distance, a new idea, random thoughts – is not about trying to block them out. It’s about learning not to be interested in them. It’s about recognizing them, letting them be, and then choosing to focus on the task at hand. So focussing on only one thing at the same time and working mindfully reduces the pressure and it helps us function more effectively and with fewer errors. We will be able to improve our concentration and our memory and avoid negative emotions and fatigue.
The greatest gift of mindfulness is that it teaches us to choose what we want to focus on. It has been shown that practicing mindfulness alters the structure and function of the brain, which makes it easier for us to learn and memorize. Learning to use our attention in an effective way can help us feel better at the end of the day. Next time you want to do two things at the same time notice where your attention is going and try to deal with the distractions by bringing your focus back to the task at hand. It’s all about being more mindful about where you place your attention. When you take on each task with full awareness, you make significant progress on your projects, you start appreciating your time, stop wasting it on things that don’t serve you, and dramatically reduce your stress level.
Doing one thing at a time and practicing being attentive and focused will actually increase our performance and our well being. If you are trying to fit more into your life, to be more productive, and have a more fulfilled life, then give up your multitasking habit and start practicing mindfulness. It brings more clarity, awareness, joy, and gratitude.
How do you stay focused without being caught up in thoughts and without being distracted by the internet or social media? Let me know in the comments below.
For more tools and resources on mindfulness and productivity check out my Resources page.