. . . Needs to Replace MultiTasking

I am still surprised when I hear people talk about how well they Multi-Task.  I am tempted to be blunt and tell them: 


"No you don't! You are terrible at multi-tasking. You just think you are good. In fact, there is no such thing as multi-tasking. That is not how the brain works. Instead, you are a Switch-Tasker. And most likely, you are an inefficient Switch-Tasker."


I won't go into the brain physiology. If you are interested, check out The Shallows by Nicolas Carr. He gives a very accessible layman's presentation of how YOUR brain works. Here are a few words I use to describe how we experience life today.


  • Noisy
  • Fast-paced
  • Hurried
  • Complex
  • Distracted
  • Interrupted
  • Overloaded
  • Surface/Shallow
  • Crazy-Busy

Read that list again, slowly . . . 


This is your daily experience. In this, you think you are Multi-tasking - doing many things simultaneously. You are not. Instead, your brain is able to switch task between three to four things. We use to think it was more like six to ten things. It turns out it is even fewer. 


No - it is three to four different items or tasks you can have in your brain's hardwiring. Here is one way to envision this. I am writing this post on a MacBook Pro. With a three fingered swipe up the screen, I see that I have FOUR DESKTOPS open with each desktop having a different MAIN TASK at the forefront. I can switch back and forth between desktops. It seems effortless to me.


This is what your brain does, it switches from desktop to desktop. But with your brain, there is energy involved in doing this. In the world I described above, we do a LOT OF Switch-Tasking. Not only do we do a lot of it, we do it quickly. Your brain gets tired from this constant Switch-Tasking which has become a way of life.


And you become less productive. Efficiency drops. Performance diminishes. Output decreases. And you actually become more frustrated as the tasks PILE UP.


Mono-Tasking is an excellent strategy. Learning to stay on one desktop. Stay with one project. Focus on one task and keep the focus there.


To do this - you must learn to eliminate or at least reduce the distractions.


Here are my Top Five Suggestions. You are going to freak out with each one. 


1.  Shut down your internet program and email while you are working on a project. Obviously, if being on the internet is your project, you can't shut it down. But you can close up unnecessary windows. Every open window is a distraction. Close them. One day last week, I was working on a project. i needed a piece of information that was in an email folder. I went to get it . . . next thing I knew, 30 minutes had gone by . . . and I couldn't remember what I had originally gone looking for. One distraction led to the next, which led to the next . . .


2.  Be ruthless about shutting down your Social Media distractions. They are HUMUNGOUS in their distraction power. They require rapid switch-tasking. 


3.  Silence your phone, put it behind you. Depending on your personal discipline, check it once an hour. Give yourself 5-10 minutes every hour to do what you need to with the phone. Having a focused, uninterrupted 45-55 minutes to work on a task will have enormous benefit. 


4.  Talk to your co-workers and find ways to ask them NOT TO INTERRUPT you while you are working. Of course there will be important exceptions. But to be honest, so many interruptions are not that important. And ever interruption is ANOTHER PERSON taking charge of your schedule. They assume that what they now need from you is more important than what you are currently doing. You have to take charge back! You don't have to be unsocial to set up appropriate work boundaries. I know this will be difficult. But experiment and figure out how to do this.


5.  You will be the one to make it work. Today, so many work places have intense activity going on. There is lots of BUSYNESS. This activity and busyness gives us the illusion of productivity. It is an illusion. Our apparent Multi-tasking is putting us far behind. Find ways to created focused Mono-tasking and see what happens.


Let me know what works best for you?


Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International