Multi-tasking is a myth, it doesn’t exist, like a cowboy with a manicure. The research supporting this reality has been in the media for over a decade, yet we still believe that we can do several tasks at once, that we NEED to do several tasks at once in order to perform and succeed. What does this look like? While talking on the phone, ten new emails arrive in your inbox, one of which is a Facebook friend request. You begin to open and read these emails while still on the phone. When tackling two major projects that your boss assigned, your co-worker interrupts you to ask advice and you get a new text message from a friend. And all this time, you are wondering what you will serve your family for dinner and when you will ever have time to exercise, make that dentist appointment, or get your car serviced.
You are moving through your day, things are getting done, but are you performing at your greatest potential? No. This is again where we need to apply Simple Sense because Less is More Success. Single-tasking not only enables you to get more done, but the quality vastly improves.
Our brains are wired so that we cannot perform multiple tasks or mentally hold divergent concepts at the same time. Even the simplest of actions can only occur one at a time because our brains are not computers, but rather linear processors. The end result is that multi-tasking is truly task-switching. We do not perform two tasks simultaneously, instead our brains must stop one task before starting the next. That means if we are trying to work on two projects at the same time, then we are ultimately wasting time because the brain must continuously switch gears when changing between the tasks. There is a down time as the brain switches tasks and has to adjust, yeah it is mili-seconds, but in the long run, working on multiple tasks wastes more time. It is less efficient.
Single-tasking enables you to focus and delve deeper into the task. You are able to make new connections and apply creativity to the process. Doing less lends to more quality. You are no longer skimming the surface, but rather jumping into the water, which enables you to fully see the issue, become an expert, and in so doing increase your value.
Now, we have our tasks to do, our own to-do list, and we also have more items continuously be adding to this list throughout the day, new demands being delivered via facebook, twitter, email, phone, text, and face-to-face. Studies have shown that instead of making to-do lists, you should schedule your tasks. How do we do less and perform more? Schedule your tasks in blocks, focusing on the most important tasks before all else (mentally prioritizing prior to action improves performance). By getting the biggies out of the way, you will have the space and attention to deal with the items that others want to add to your to-do list over the course of the day. And by organizing your day into scheduled task blocks and then working within this framework, you can train yourself to turn-off and tune-out distractions. Turn off the phone and close your email box while focusing on the task at hand. If a fire presents itself (e.g., your boss requires you at a sudden meeting), then of course put it out, but otherwise quickly jot down the interrupting task and get to it later.
I like to work for 50 minutes out of the hour. By setting an alarm to sound after this time, I can then spend 10 minutes evaluating my progress, determining what task should be tackled next, or engaging in some other distraction.
Focusing on less at one time enables us to produce greater quality results more efficiently. Plus, the added bonus to single-tasking is that it provides some sanity, some direction, some simplicity in an otherwise complex, fast-paced, and demanding world. Less is More Success.