Building Resilience, Powering Performance

One of my clients showed me the JD of a job he was considering applying to, and one of the required qualities mentioned in this JD was the ability to multitask. My client feels he is good at multitasking. He has even mentioned it on his resume.

According to research, only about 2.5% of people can simultaneously handle multiple streams of information and activities. However, many more people think that they have this ability.

It is considered cool to be a multi-tasker. We want to fill every pause with activity and a chance to deal with something. We even believe that doing one thing at a time is boring. The result is a dozen open windows, multiple unfinished tasks, a feeling of not being productive enough, and the pressure of dealing with so much unfinished work. 

The word multitasking is a misnomer. When you think you are multitasking, you are not doing more things simultaneously but rapidly switching back and forth between various items. This switching takes a toll on our efficiency because as we toggle from one task to another, our mind needs time to recall what we were doing, where we were, and how to proceed and then repeat it. This juggling slows us down, reduces our creativity, and makes our work prone to error.

There is enough research to prove that humans cannot multitask. Our brains are capable of doing one cognitively demanding thing at a time. Trying to do multiple things at once is less efficient than focusing on one task at a time. Multitasking interferes with working memory and causes poor performance.

Research also proves that variety leads to happiness over more extended periods of time. Over shorter periods, like a few minutes or an hour, more number of activities impacts productivity and cause unhappiness.

If you are inspired to break the habit of multitasking, you can try the following tips –

Prioritize. Evaluate the various things you are tempted to do and determine what you must focus on first. Limit the number of things you would try to accomplish in a day rather than looking at a long list of ‘to-do’s.’

Focus on any one task at a given point in time. You may use a technique like Pomodoro to allot time to specific tasks and dedicate that time only to the allotted task.

Plan what to pair together if you cannot avoid multitasking. When you need to work on multiple things simultaneously, combine something that needs lesser cognitive resources, like folding laundry, with something that requires more focus, like having a conversation.

Limit distractions. Switch off notifications on your phone and laptop. Create a ‘do not disturb’ boundary for the blocks of time when you want to do focused work.

Practice mindfulness. Adding mindfulness exercises to your routine can improve your focus and ability to pay attention to one thing at a time.

By focusing on one task at a time, you can improve your productivity, reduce stress levels, and achieve better results. So, the next time you feel tempted to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously, remember that it’s okay to slow down and take things one step at a time. By prioritizing, planning, and eliminating distractions, you can stay focused, get more done, and be happier.