I just made my breakfast, I take the plate to the table where my laptop awaits my push of the spacebar to commence Netflix. As I dive into the yam and eggs, and watch Peaky Blinders, I seem to be fulfilling a dopamine wet dream. Multitasking two of my favorite things at once, the perfect vibe, right?
Well no. I tussle between the Birmingham accents in front of my eyes, and the yams below them. Then I end up wondering how my food is finished, and not knowing why the ‘fook’ Arthur Shelby just did that.
Before I did this, I probably thought it a piece of cake to do both things simultaneously, but quite frankly, continuous focus is needed to savor one or the other. Many of us reckon ourselves quite good at multitasking, there’s so much media coming at us it’s almost inevitable to multitask. My advice is to do it less, because we’re probably not as good at it as we think we are.
Focusing on one task at a time improves attention, mindfulness and learning. It’s going to be very difficult for you to enter the ‘zone’ when you’re rapidly switching between tasks. You may end up completing all of them, but in a longer time, and less efficiently.
With the immediacy of notifications, and the endless streams of media, it can feel like you have to do everything now. But you have to really believe that there’s a lot of time remaining to complete each task, or at least more than if you multitask.
“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once. But there is not enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”
In the workplace, people go into meetings with laptops open all the time, replying that email about an important project while being briefed about another. Chances are, many people will miss some important points, and will be bewildered by their colleague’s conversation. It’s just like texting or tweeting during a lecture, you’ll be the guy next week who didn’t know when that assignment was given. In short, it lowers productivity.
For creativity and creative people, that spontaneous ‘a ha’ moment often occurs in the middle of deep thought. If you’re constantly switching on and off from a project, it doesn’t help your chances to come up with a creative solution to a problem.
On a personal level, some of our relationships might suffer because of paying less attention to a friend or partner. Picture this, you and your girlfriend are trying to have a discussion, and one of you pauses to check your messages, the other passive aggressively does the same, multitasking hinders communication.
We have a finite amount of mental energy at any given moment, and balancing two high energy tasks–like driving and creating a text–will put you in a tough spot. If you do multitask, it would be better to do its more effortless forms, like walking and chewing gum, or talking on the phone and folding laundry.
The Case for Mono-Tasking
Honing your time management skills is more efficient than multitasking, on a single task level, and in building a habit. Engaging in deep work allows you think in a much broader spectrum, and can provide invaluable breakthroughs. Using a timer is one way to discipline yourself to give your best in one place, because you’re absolutely going to stop at a certain time.
Before you start your day, ask yourself two questions; what do I have to do today? and Which of them will have the most impact towards my goals? When you identify what you have to do, write them down, then rank them by impact of the consequences of not doing them.
The tasks that end up at the top of your list are probably the hard ones you want to avoid, but completing them will give you a greater sense of accomplishment. And even though you don’t complete all the tasks, you did the most important. This quells the overbearing anxiety of all the things you have to do, which comes when you’re resting.
Monotasking can go in hand with mindfulness, which will improve your ability to do things on purpose, and truly live in the moment. So next time, I will eat to savor my food, and watch film to understand and enjoy them. You should too.