Multi-tasking is the word you always hear when busy people talk to each other. Even more often you hear it when those people are business owners or freelancer. Doing multiple things at the same time seems to be a desirable skill that would help you to move faster in your career and become more successful than your competitors. In the past multitasking was a women privilege—cooking, doing the laundry, helping the kids with their homework, phoning the husband and following the news on the TV. Meanwhile, some men are proud to be multitasking too. It’s okay to see a cyclist taking business calls while crossing the main street and fitness enthusiasts running on the treadmill while reading the news on the iPad. The big TV screen in every gym nowadays makes it impossible to focus on exercising no matter if you want it or not.
Multi-tasking is a dangerous state of mind
In the past, I was also very passionate about multi-tasking and thought I am quite good at it. But I also felt drawn and tired at the beginning of the day. No, I was not sick. I was reading emails on the computer and checking parallel twitter on my phone; if the app loaded slowly I was switching to Instagram or opening some CAD files to draw the next plan; in the morning I was collecting the items for my bag while taking the last sip of coffee and so on. And then in the early afternoon, I felt exhausted and nervous. Sounds familiar?
Oh well, it is so popular, and it looks like everyone is doing it, that it is normal that you do it too. But I am going to observe this in more detail here which probably could help you to change your attitude if you want.
The most important first:
our brain is not multi-tasking
Our brain coordinates a big part of what happens in our body but when it comes to tasks outside of it the brain completes them one after another. It could look like if it happens at the same time but actually, the brain switches very quickly between the singles tasks. So, if you talk on the phone and check your emails your attention ping-pongs between the voice and the text, and you realise that you missed the first part of the last sentence. So you end up saying: “Sorry, could you please repeat this again?”
For the brain, the jumping between tasks is like for the legs running up to the 6th floor. It is ok first but at some point it becomes tiring and when our brain is tired it just helps itself while reducing its capacity: we miss a sentence, or don’t understand what the colleague says, we oversee a number in the spreadsheet or forget to reply the email. In other words: we get tired and make mistakes. And mistakes cost time and money or both.
So, if you think now you can’t help but being multi-tasking, don’t worry. Here are a few simple steps how to make a difference:
1. You always have the choice to change things.
It is up to you if you are going to do it or not but the option is there. Quite often we think we can’t do things in a different way, but this is only our education or unconscious knowledge that someone else expects us to act in a certain way. We are adults, we can make decisions, and we can stick to them.
So, the first step would be to decide that you want to change something. This decision should sound distinct. For example: “I want to finish one task after another.” or ‘”I don’t want to work on more than three projects in one day.”
Once you’ve said this to yourself, you should call you best friend or partner and tell this to them too. It is a simple trick to make things feel real and somehow official. Just tell them about your decision, they don’t need to support you or to talk with you through this, just to hear it once.
2. Identify when and what are you multi-tasking
You should determine why you are doing multiple things parallel. Is it because of the load of work, or because of your three children or because of something else?
When you find this out, become aware of it. Don’t do anything, just acknowledge your “discovery”. Awareness changes our attitude to things, peoples, places, situation. It happens automatically, no action is required.
If you are the one who creates the multi-tasking environment for yourself, like I did in the past, then you need some self-discipline. There is no magic formula for this: it is self-discipline and self-education. You can check Twitter every ten minutes, but you can also decide not to do it (See Step 1). It is pure free will and it is yours. Use it!
There are also another people and situations that bring us to be multi-tasking even if we don’t want it. Here we need to be active. The action step here is straight forward:
3. Set up your boundary.
In other words, say “No”. It is hard, I know, but it is about your well-being, productivity and work-life balance. Your boss will be happy if you stay healthy and your clients will appreciate it to see you in a good mood, friendly and co-operative.
Sometimes you can just ignore the email or the phone and not to say anything. In the Anglo-Saxons countries, the message will be understood. In other cases, you would need your courage, good manner and friendly voice, and say or write that you are happy to help but first when you finish your current task. Believe me, people understand this and respect it.
And that’s it!
Take one thing at a time and when you finish it move to the next. The beauty of focusing on one subject on time is that our brain can bring the best results and our body stays relaxed. You will see how your productivity will increase and you will feel the flow and the joy of being present.
P.S. The image to this post is available on my page at society6.