Do you pride yourself on being a talented multi-tasker? Well, a new study says that may be an illusion. The study, conducted by Stanford University, says that multitasking may be detrimental to not only your brain, but also your ability to get things done faster and more efficiently.
Surprisingly, they found that multitasking is actually less productive than doing one task at a time. Participants who were faced with too many tasks at once (i.e. electronic notifications, emails, cell phones, and work tasks) weren’t able to truly focus or pay attention properly, recall vital information or switch from one job to another as well as people who completed one single task at a time.
Do some people have a special knack for multitasking?
Ironically, people who were avid multitaskers (and believed that they were therefore more productive) were actually worse multitaskers than the participants who completed one single task at a time. This was due, in part, to the multitaskers not being able to efficiently organize their thoughts or filtering out unnecessary information.
The art of single tasking, especially in this day and age, ain’t easy. We’re so consumed with how much work we can dish out in one day, how much work we can get done, how many boxes we can check off on our “to do” list, and how many activities we can do at once.
Now that we know that multitasking is less efficient than single-tasking, will we take the steps to stop this bad habit? If your question is how, here are some ideas to start:
- Start a meditation practice. Focusing on only one thing can be a definite challenge. With our 5 senses constantly being bombarded, it’s tough to buckle down and develop a single pointed focus. Meditation is a practice. Keep practicing and your concentration on one thing will improve. Make a conscious effort to focus on one thing at a time … that’s meditation!
- Organize. If you only want to focus on one thing, how can you possibly do that with clutter? If your room, office or even on your desk are messy – it can be a constant distraction. Before you start on your single-tasking journey, take time to do thoroughly clean your environment. Feng shuiing your space is, in turn, clearing your mind.
- Set your priorities. Ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I need to accomplish right now?” Make a to-do list and the cut it down to about 5 items per day (any more than that and it can get overwhelming, leading to overwhelm and defeat). When you complete your list, number the tasks from 1-5, in order of importance. Then you can move forward with each task. Make sure to complete one task before you move on to the next.
- Handle distractions. If something comes to your mind, keep a pad of paper to the side to jot down reminders for later, instead of jumping on your email or phone. If you get a phone call, let it go to voicemail if it’s not urgent. If you’re in a chaotic environment, use earplugs or even some headphones to stay focused.
- Move often, take breaks and breathe a lot. Single-tasking doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take breaks. Stay on the task at hand, but allow your body to move freely, get up and even get into a downward dog or two! Taking mindful walks can help. Pay attention to the breath, your body and nature. Moving your physical body can clear mental clutter and improve creativity and productivity. Don’t forget – there’s nothing more effective to bring us back to the present moment like a deep, full, cleansing breath.
- Make it a daily practice. You may fall off the wagon and slip back into your multi-tasking tendencies, but just remember it’s not going to make you complete your tasks any faster. Just like meditation, ease comes with a dedicated practice.
Single-tasking is now the new multi-tasking. We just have to rewire our programming. It’s not cool to being 3 people’s jobs at once as though you have 3 heads and 6 arms. Because energetically that is what you’re doing to yourself – pulling yourself in way too many directions to remain sane. Modern day multi-tasking skills are getting us nowhere fast. Mindfulness and single-tasking leads to more quality work, increased peace, less stress, as well as more happiness.
So, the next time you decide to split your awareness on 10,000 things, remember to do one thing at a time.