I remember back before I started my health coaching practice and was looking for office jobs. The job announcements would often say something like, “Must be good a multitasking.” In interviews, I would often be asked how I was with multitasking, and my answer would be something along the lines of, “I’m able to multitask just fine when necessary, but plan my day to avoid it as much as possible.” Then, explain why.
Why Multitasking is a Terrible Idea
Here’s the thing: our brains are basically programmed to focus on one thing at a time. So, while you might think you’re simultaneously getting through email while you research your next article or having two conversations at once as you text during a meeting, you’re really bouncing back and forth between tasks. So, neither task is getting your full attention.
- You’re actually being less productive (about 40% less, according to experts), because it takes your brain a moment to “gear-up” and transition between tasks.
- Multitasking is stressful. Trying to focus on more than one thing at a time is overwhelming, and makes us feel like there is way too much to get done.
- You’re missing out on other things. In one study, 75% of college students who walked across a campus square while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby. And of course, there’s that car speeding in your direction…
- It’s effecting your relationships. Are you checking email while having dinner with your spouse or responding to text messages while playing with your children? Is it really that important?
What to Do Instead
“We all have lots of work to do. That’s fine. How we deal with it determines whether we thrive or are crushed under the weight of our burdens. Today you need to make the right choice and take control of your time.” – Pedram Shojai
Taking on too much at once can feel crushing. We feel trapped and overwhelmed, and like we can never dig ourselves out. So how do we get out of that trap? Simply put, we do the opposite of multitasking: one thing at a time.
Try, at least for a while, to put everything you need to do on your calendar. You know the old home economics saying, “A place for everything and everything in it’s place?” Make that the rule for your schedule. Include not just work projects, but errands, eating, self-care, time with loved ones, all of it. If you find that there isn’t space for everything, that’s a clear sign that you’re over-committing and need to either delegate or put some things off for later.
Chunk Your Time
Have you heard of time-chunking? It’s the idea that certain times are put aside for certain types of tasks. For example, I put aside an hour after breakfast to work on emails and social media tasks every day. After lunch is almost always my writing time. I know this is when my brain power is at it’s best and when I’m most creative, so I take advantage of that. Similarly, every Monday is my web development day. By chunking time in this way, I know when to schedule certain types of activities.
Know before you start each day what NEEDS to get done that day. What’s going to have the biggest impact? Make sure you get that done early before anything else gets in the way. If you need help determining what your priorities should be, read my post How to Set Priorities.
Spending just a few minutes every day planning when things will get done and giving yourself permission to focus on just one thing at a time frees up a surprising amount of your time and allows you to relax. Try it and let me know how it goes!
This post is part of a series following the 100-day gong practice developed by Pedram Shojai for The Art of Stopping Time. If you would like to read other posts in the series, click here. If you would like to receive emails following the series from the beginning, click here.