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.
Also read How to Use the Power of Mindfulness to Deal with Procrastination
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.
Mary-The Boondocks Blog says
Ana it is very hard to not multi-task nowadays. Especially when we are in front of the computer we get dragged from one thing to another. I find that making a list of what needs to be done helps to keep me focused.
Ooo, tell me about it! But I’m getting better at not multitasking. I understood that if I want to actually save time, I have to learn to focus on only one thing. And it really works for me. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Linda at Mixed Kreations says
It is hard not to multi task, and I am bad at trying to do more then one thing at a time. But everything you say makes sense. When I set my mind to get one thing done before I move to the next I do seem to get more done. I’m like Mary I make list then start with the most important, and mark off the list as I get each thing done. That way I’m concentrating on one task at a time. That seems to work best for me.
I actually do the same: make a master list with all the things I have to do, start with the first important one and I don’t stop until I finish it. Checking things off my list – so rewarding! 🙂
Kristin Cook says
I definitely can’t “multi-task”. Now, I can work on my pinterest scheduling while watching Netflix with my husband, but there is no way I could write a blog post or anything like that while watching.
I agree that oftentimes, multi-tasking causes us to half-do a lot of things instead of accomplishing doing something awesome!
I can’t multitask and I don’t like to multitask, because I know that I can only give half of my attention to the task at hand. The result is, obviously, not the best.
Monique Diplock says
I 100% agree with you people think Mindfulness is a bunch of witch craft until they actually understand it these days, I love the facts you put in there about us being physically unable to multi task, i love that you called it an illusion, its what i needed to hear to kick me back in to gear today. Thanks!! great post!!! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your kind words, Monique! I strongly believe mindfulness only helps us become a little better and a little wiser.
Rachel | The Naptime Projects says
This has given me a lot to think about. I’m always multitasking!
Biz Builder Babe says
it is so hard to not be distracted by so many things. we are always trying to squeeze as many tasks into every moment – this is a great reminder to slow down & be more mindful!
Davi @ Homegrown Simplicity says
“Single tasking” is almost a lost art. Even as I drink a cup of coffee, I feel like I should be doing something else too (checking email, social media, etc). What a great reminder to slow down and be more intentional with our time.
Oh, I love that – “single-tasking is a lost art.” As you mentioned, I too feel that I should do something else while I’m drinking my coffee. In fact, multitasking is never productive.
Nostalgia Diaries says
This was really interesting. I used to be a great multi-tasker, but now that my days are filled with so many things to do, trying to do too many things at once leaves me feeling overwhelmed and stressed. I need to be much more mindful about the things I need to get done!
That’s so true. Multitasking only makes us feel stressed out and anxious. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Claire - StartACraftBlog says
I love Mindfulness and I agree that multi tasking is a total myth! Multi tasking is akin to doing lots of things quite poorly. “Don’t half ass two things, whole ass one thing” – Red Foreman, the 70s show 🙂
Ha! I love that, Claire! No more multitasking! 🙂
Great post, I need to take it to heart! I always am trying to do 9 million things at once and I get burnt out so fast!
I am constantly trying to work on this! I really need to be more mindful, and not doing a million things at once.
I really need to work on this. I have multiple tabs and multiple screens going at all times!
I love that mindfulness is all about giving choice and power back to yourself. It does seem that multi-tasking is a fallacy. Mindfulness also significantly improves my mood. Such a great post!
Thank you, Kate! I too believe that mindfulness is about choosing to focus on all the right things.
Julie is Hostess At Heart says
I’m the worst when it comes to focusing! I’ll go into a room and forget why I’m there and start doing something else until I remember what it was I was supposed to be doing LOL! I agree that multi-tasking causes stress. I think it’s a buzz word that employers used to get employees to do more.
Great post! I am always fighting this and trying to do too much.