While it’s easy to pride ourselves on being experts, we’re not as good as we think we are.
Trying to rapidly switch between tasks is a natural coping strategy when we are in a busy environment. And in fairness, certain types of tasks can be carried out simultaneously without negative side-effect and can even be beneficial. For example, walking while talking with a friend is technically multi-tasking though it doesn’t use the same brain functions. Riding an exercise bike while listening to a podcast can be a good partnership and an effective use of time.
But writing an email while taking part in a video meeting will mean neither task is carried out efficiently or effectively.
Similar to driving, where many overrate their skills, research shows we aren’t as effective at multi-tasking as we think we are. In fact, even if we can just about get away with it, negative multi-tasking reduces our IQ level by around 15 points and the habit can even affect our long-term ability to focus.
The good news is that the brain, like any muscle, can be trained. Try to find occasions where you can switch off distractions, and train the brain to mono-task, getting into a state of deep thinking. (Resource: Deep Work by Cal Newport)
Headphones and Spotify playlists may be key tools, but remember to be selective on the soundtrack.
What techniques can help?
Tools and strategies already mentioned in this programme can also have a beneficial effect on training our mind. Here are a few:
The Pomodoro Technique – A timer counting down from 25 minutes – no distractions or social media are allowed until the bell goes. Then a 5-minute break followed by another 25-minute Pomodoro. After 4 Pomodoro’s, you are rewarded with a longer break. (you can adjust the timings, though there is some science between the 25 / 5 allocations).
Linked to this, time-tracking can also help. There are a number of apps that will help with tracking how you use your time (see Toogl, Freedom, RescueTime).
Finally, actually blocking periods in the calendar for a key task will help us to view it as a meeting; a meeting with ourselves. While doing that piece of work, switch off distractions, if possible even closing down our email and chat client or even going completely offline.
Perhaps the last words should be left to Jeremy Clarkson who said “Multitasking is the ability to screw everything up simultaneously.” Wise words Jeremy, wise words!
What are your views on Multi-tasking or tips and tricks? Feel free to comment below.