Avoid multitasking and increase your focus

I was reading an article on the internet that referred to a research study done at Stanford which concluded that multitasking is bad for the brain. A few more clicks on Google, and soon enough, I had a collection of research studies that said the same thing – multitasking isn’t good for you!

At first, this seemed odd to me. But, the more I reflected on my typical work-day, it was pretty obvious that multitasking was bringing down my productivity and was not doing me any good.

This can come as quite a surprise to most of us who believe that the hallmark of an efficient employee/artisan/worker is the ability to do more than one task at the same time. All of us do it – answering the phone while typing out an email, or answering two calls at the same time, or talking on our phones while driving (very bad), and so on.

The loss in productivity comes from context switching.

What really ends up hurting you while multitasking is “context-switching”. By this, I mean that the human brain needs time and some effort to switch from one task to another. And often, some pieces of information (memory) gets lost while making the switch.

Let’s give this a computer analogy. You are working on task A and you want to switch to task B. You first need to save A, close it, open task B, load the data from memory, and only then start working on task B. This is repeated every time you switch between A and B! It’s not hard to see that your computer is going to hang/crash/overload/burn soon! Now, think of your brain as this computer – it isn’t a pretty picture, is it?

Jeff Atwood who is a highly respected blogger/entrepreneur, writes about, the price you pay for context switching. Referring to Gerald Weinberg’s book on quality systems, Jeff says the following –

Even adding a single project to your workload is profoundly debilitating by Weinberg’s calculation. You lose 20% of your time. By the time you add a third project to the mix, nearly half your time is wasted in task switching.

Why do I multitask?

So, I asked myself why I multitask and here are my top reasons ..

  • procrastination : I wasted time earlier, and now I have to cram a lot of tasks in the little time I have left.
  • I forgot about a task and its due soon.
  • I promised too much and now I have to deliver.
  • just plan bored!

But sometimes, I found that multitasking is inevitable – you have a family that you need to take of and a demanding career. Kids, career, work pressure, etc., etc. – it feels as though 24 hours in a day aren’t enough!

I sat and thought hard about it and I realized that though I cannot ignore my family and the unexpected issues that crop up, there is a significant number of things that I can anticipate and plan properly for. I began working at it and I can see the difference in my life. I actually have a little more time every morning to try and cook something for my family, my work-days are no longer chaotic and I end up completing my tasks by 4pm. This has given me time to study and improve my skill set on the job.

Here’s my set of solutions to help you curb multitasking –

  • Plan, plan, plan : Every morning I settle down with a cup of tea and plan my day. I write down a list of things that I need to get done : meetings that I need to go to, emails that need attention, code that needs to be written, etc. On a subconscious level, I have my day mapped out and I can handle surprises much more easily.
  • Pomodoro Technique : By working in sprints of 20 mins, you will find it easier to concentrate on just one task without all the distractions and context switching.
  • Unplug : Turn off all your email alerts, smart phone alerts, alarms, and work on your task with complete concentration. It could be for just 20 mins – but do it!
  • Say no : I have learned to say “no” – politely with cause. There is no reason to burden myself with more than I can handle. That way, I don’t make promises that I cannot keep!

I am very curious about how multitasking has helped/affected your personal life and what you’ve done about it. So please let me know in the comments section.

 

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