The Problem with Multitasking, and How to Get Rid of It
The Problem with Multitasking, and How to Get Rid of It

Key Points

  • Multitasking is a lie.
  • You cannot do more than one task at a time.
  • Embrace grace.

Multitasking is a lie. There – I said it.

The concept of multitasking has been on my mind for a while now. I’ve been challenging the idea, its limitations, and frankly, defying it as a mom, a leader, a business owner – basically, all the hats that I wear now. The problem I have with multitasking is this: how can you do more than one thing at a time? Like, can you pat your head and rub your stomach at once?

But on we go, full steam ahead, multitasking away because in our overly busy lives we are told we can only survive by “multitasking,” right? It’s the solution to do everything and be everything. We drive our kids to practice, make elaborate dinners, wash and fold the laundry, take care of the dishes, bathe our children….sound familiar?

In our defense (hello there, fellow multitasker!), our lives exist in a chaotic state sometimes. We have so many things to do,  right now.

But, if you think about it, aren’t we only doing one thing at a time? You’re not actually doing multiple tasks at the same time. We aren’t bathing our kids and cooking at once. Your attention and brain power are focused on one task. We may not finish that one task, but maybe we’ll move on to something else and come back to the first task leaving the second one undone.

In our world – the behavior world – our brains “think” about what we are doing until they become fluent or automatic. We, behaviorists, call this verbally mediated behavior. Then, it becomes contingency shaped behavior as our brains automate the tasks. So things like driving a car, riding a bike, filling out a bank slip – you know, the everyday things that we do in our everyday lives – were first tasks that our brains had to “think” about. Then slowly, as our brains get used to the task, it becomes second nature. Ever drive somewhere and then thought, “How’d I get here??” It’s because our brains have learned the way and we no longer need to “self-talk” to complete a task.

This feeling – of living in an inundated, and never ending list of to-dos, can lead to feelings of being unproductive.  A considerable body of research supports the notion that multitasking does not increase productivity. We can say, from all the literature and research conducted, that multitasking does not work. And I am a firm believer of that! What we know now about multitasking is that our brains can hold on to more than one process at a time, but we can only carry out one task at a time. When we refer to multitasking then, it’s about doing a million things at once, but most of the time, not to completion.

As a victim of multitasking, doing more than two tasks simultaneously was ‘normal’ for me, but it took a toll on my life and eventually it will on yours, too. It took a long time and a ridiculous amount of concentration to do multiple things at once. Here are some suggestions on fighting the temptation to multitask that I use every day:

1. Concentrate on one thing at a time. Our moms were right about this one. Do one task until it is done before moving on to the next one. You will save yourself a lot of time in having to retrace your steps to go back and do things over because you forgot where you left off.

2. Embrace tomorrow. There are so few things that cannot be done a little late, if necessary. Here’s a great way to organize your day:

I’ve met several people who categorize tasks by time. If a task can be done in under ten minutes, they tackle it now. If it requires more time and attention, the task gets categorized to later, i.e, tomorrow. Don’t think about it as a delay, rather, as making a decision to tackle the task at a later time instead of being paralyzed with overwhelm. Have grace, space, and patience for yourself to get your stuff done. It will happen with more accuracy and efficiency if you allow yourself to complete the task before moving on to the next one.

3. Slow down. We make mistakes and have to spend more time fixing them when we band-aid a problem quickly just to get it done. For the former athletes reading this post, it was during those soccer or basketball games where you were in catch-up mode and out of your usual team rhythm where the most mistakes happened. Lay-ups…missed. Accurate passes…terribly off. Stop, reset, make a plan for your time and priorities.

4. Play detective. Figure out why you have to do something. Ask yourself the hard questions: why do you have to do this task? Is there a better way to complete it? Can it be delegated? Is the task necessary at all?

 

If there is one thing to take out of this post, it’s this – you cannot complete more than one thing at a time. Embrace monotasking, give yourself grace, and don’t worry about being all the things and doing all the things, all the time. This, my friend, is the truth.

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