To Multitask Or Not To Multitask?

Your typical day might look something like this…

The alarm goes off and it’s time to get lunches ready for the family whilst keeping watching the news on the TV. On your drive to work, you’re on the phone to your colleague going through the 9am meeting you are chairing. During the meeting, you get a text from your childminder which you quickly reply to during a presentation. Following the meeting, you make a cup of tea, whilst discussing the outcomes and steps forward with your colleague. You sit at your desk and work from 11am – 5pm.

Throughout the day, your family whatsapp pings, Facebook messages come through and you have a scroll through Twitter as you’re watching a video about the latest competitor. You’re stuck at traffic lights on the way home from work and start a text whilst you’re waiting, the light turns green but you haven’t finished the text, you finish the text whilst putting the clutch down, moving into first gear and pressing on the accelerator. On your return from home, you listen to audiobook as you make dinner, collapse in front of the sofa and watch TV whilst replying to emails and texts that have built up during the day. Sound familiar?

Why we shouldn’t do it?

Over time not only can multitasking be exhausting but it is less efficient, we make far more mistakes and tasks take us a lot more time. Were you aware that, as humans, only about 2.5% of us can actually multitask? Rather than multitask, the other 97.5% of us actually rapidly switch task as we can’t manage more than one task at a time.
Trying to multitask reduces our ability to do things well, and sometimes safely. People who use their phone whilst driving are double as likely to miss stop signs and this multitasking halves the information drivers are aware of (even when using hands free)1. Switching between tasks weakens our ability to function at our best and takes much longer as we adjust from task to task (see our blog on Time Management for more info on this).
Perhaps you struggle with memory. Studies have shown that we have a decreased retention rate of what we’re trying to learn whilst we’re multitasking. And of course, we can’t forget that sometimes multitasking is rude. You might be chatting to a colleague and their phone pings, rather than focus their attention on you and the present moment, they think they can listen to you and reply to the text at the same time, they can’t.

5 tips to help you

1. Spend twenty minutes on one task rather than swap between the two.
2. Start planning your day to help you stay focussed on the task at hand. Prioritise work so the most demanding tasks can be completed first. The more precise you are with your plan, the more likely you are to stay on task.
3. Smartphones can be addictive and a big distraction to your work, home and family life. Through our phones not only can we call and text but we can also watch films, reply to emails, buy something from Amazon, post on Instagram and work. This volume of tasks that we have available at our fingertips can sometimes tip us over the edge. Consider taking a ‘screen break’. Set certain times of the day that you will or won’t respond to emails, messages or be on your phone. Some of us are addicted to our phones so this might be a difficult task. Once you have pushed through the first few difficult days, it will get easier.
4. Don’t go on your phone for the first or last hour of the day. This helps your brain to engage in a deeper, more focussed activity. Using electronics at night can increase your brains stimulation and produce a stress response, this is not what you want as you are trying to sleep.
5. Practice mindfulness. Those who are mindful, are able to live in the present moment and pay attention. Decisions can be made with less stress and a less reactive environment. If you’d like to find out more about mindfulness then cross over to our blog about it.

We live in a world that constantly demands our attention. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to fall in the trap of being less effective in our work, not being present for our families or not being safe on the roads. Use these tips to help you become more focussed and live life to the full.

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