ART OF MESSING UP MULTITASKING : In the world which celebrates Multitasking, the reality is that the people who are making a difference are focused Single taskers. Multitasking is the newly inculcated and developed attribute of our generation which is an art of messing up everything at the same time. The article shares observation on multitasking at workplace and life and why you will be better at everything by being single tasker. The article also provides insights and 7 action point steps you can take right away to get more done.
What is Multitasking and how it is killing you
Multitasking, simply put, is about trying to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. From small act of shuffling between one project to another, to multiple tabs opened in your browser ( which never get read ), to listening music while jogging, to talking on phone while chatting on Facebook, to Texting while driving ( the no.1 cause of accident, so much so that Honda did a campaign against it. Click here to see the campaign) are some of the many examples of Multitasking. In a recent article by Amy Williams on Teenology titled- Is Media multitasking shrinking our kids brain? schools in developed countries have begun to take specific measures like creating Dead Zones – Net not allowed, to No Wi-fi Zones. This is not only the challenge with the kids, multitasking is now deeply engrained in our system and in fact is our lifestyle.
In a recent research done by research agency Nielsen- it was found that 69% of the people watch the TV and Surf the internet simultaneously- i.e multitasking. The data is skewed towards 25-44 age bracket, the ones who are high on wallet size and are constantly bombarded with advertisement.
The Perils of Multitasking
Multitasking is a brain drain activity that leave you stressed, angry, and everything you do not want to be. It sucks away your cognitive resources, depletes your sharpness and leave you wandering, yet we as a society are constantly trying to create multi-taskers and end up creating people with a peculiar disease termed DAF. DAF or Directed Attention Fatigue is a disease with common symptoms of:
- Difficulty starting and finishing tasks.
If one or more of these challenges are now an ingrained part of your life, welcome to the club of Multitaskers. Let’s understand what all happens when you Multi-task.
Multi-tasking takes away your Brain capacity basically hitting your cognitive abilities.
Cognition- in science is the set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge: attention, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and “computation” etc. Human cognition is conscious and unconscious, concrete or abstract, as well as intuitive (like knowledge of a language) and conceptual (like a model of a language). Cognitive processes use existing knowledge and generate new knowledge.
So In a more generalized terms, three specific actions happens when you Multi-task.
A. DEPLETED WORKING MEMORY:
When you multitask your Cognitive load increases and eventually leads to depletion of working memory.
This bird called cognition has an extended arm called- Cognitive load which refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. As humans it is believed that we have a 7 digit working memory often referred as Magical Number seven in a much applauded research paper by Dr. Miller titled, Magical Number Seven plus or minus two ( Read more about Magical number seven here.) The crux: When you multitask your Cognitive load increases and eventually leads to depletion of working memory.
B. THE SLOWER HALF BRAIN
Multitasking not only makes you slower but it actually changes the way your brain operates, in fact it splits your brain in equal half.
The moment you need to pay attention, an area toward the front of the brain called the prefrontal cortex springs to action. This area, which spans the left and right sides of the brain, is part of the brain’s motivational system. In an experiment, scientists observed that for two tasks under equal reward system, the brain splits itself in half and the task with higher ROI takes edge over the attention span thus net effect: a slower brain functioning.
C. BRAIN DAMAGE
Ok, agree or not this is the serious threat. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV- remember your whatsapp during the latest TV show) to MRI scans of their brains. Look at the Simultaneous Usage Insights between Tablets TV vs Smartphones and TV.
The results will pop your eyes. 41% use their tablets at least once a day while watching TV and 39% use smartphones. These set of people, the so called High multitaskers in the MRI scans showed less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.
HOW TO BE A SINGLE TASKER
So if Now you understand and agree that Multitasking is an addiction and many of us are totally addicted to it, what can you do? Is there a way out?
Well yes, read on for Insights to being Single Tasker
Lessons from Julie Morgenstern, a productivity expert and author of bestseller Time Management from the Inside Out. Julie is dubbed as the “queen of putting people’s lives in order” by USA Today. Also, the renowned Neuro scientist Daniel J Levitin , author of famous book ” The organised mind”
Here are the insights
1. Build Screen Brakes:
Build 2-3 hours of continuous screen brakes in your day, which actually leads you to put your time into different type of problem solving, like studying, thinking, talking etc. The more the Screen Brakes in your work and personal time, the better you get out of habit of multitasking.
2. Protect First and Last Hour of the Day:
Julie argues that the critical hour of your day is the first and last hour. Checking emails and whatsapp messages first thing in morning, aha there begin your fall down. First and Last hour of the day is the most critical to avoiding multitasking. Try to wake up more engaged and doing the exercise/meditation first thing will help you get more of the day.
3. Have an Action Plan for the day:
Plan your day +1 in advance. Tackle the Big challenges of the day early on, so that when urgency and not so important task pops up and your cognitive load increases, you would have already managed your focused work.
4. Remove Distractions:
The biggest challenge in a work space is you immersed in your work and a co-worker pops up with his problem, or a email from your boss, or the FB notification or your Whatsapp message. all eying for your attention and thats the time when you begin multitasking. Create a zone of No distractions. Its actually simple, Check emails thrice in the day. Morning, Afternoon and Before leaving. Put your phone in a Do not disturb Mode for 3 hour zones. As per the Neuro scientists, Just these simple step will reduce your distractions by 70%.
5. Reduce Switching:
The big wastage in Multitasking happens when you switch from one task to another. From Phone call, to Email, to Text, to Meeting, to Taking notes, to deciding the money matters. One effective solution is grouping these task together thus reducing the switching time.This reduces the effort brain puts in deciding which tasks to do when and starts randomizing.
6. Say NO:
So you cannot avoid your boss coming in and giving you work. Not many can and that’s a part of life. But what you can do is move this task to your bucket of attention in Next hour and get back to the task in hand. For other saying a NO to switch attention is a habit one need to inculcate.
7. Maximize Focus:
Like the Prime time in Television, have your own prime time, which is dedicated and disciplined time to invest on a single project. Putting a timeline like getting up only when the project is done is a great way to maximize your focus in a time constrained situation.
So to Sum Up:
A. Multitasking is Bad for you- your brain, your health and Life.
B. To re-calibrate yourself from the addiction of Multitasking use the following techniques:
1. Have Screen Brake time
2. Protect First and Last hour of the Day
3. Have an Action Plan for the day
4. Remove Distractions
5. Reduce Switching
6. Say NO
7. Maximize Focus
Start Single Tasking. Best of Luck.
The Author is Sr. Brand Manager of IndiaMART.com India’s largest Online Marketplace .A Gold Medalist from Mudra Institute of Communication, and an alumnus of National Institute of Technology, his areas of interest includes understanding human evolution with technology thus crafting Marketing Strategies in sync with the changing world.
Photo courtesy: akravmagalife