• Debora Cavett

Sorry, but you can't multitask

Updated: Nov 6, 2019

I really didn't mean to offend you with my blog title, but the truth hurts sometimes. Are you one of those people that pride themselves in being able to do multiple things at once? Or do you like to tell your husband that you can multitask while he can't? Then you're like me. For the longest time, I thought I must be one of the best multitaskers to wander the face of the earth. I was crushing the 'doing it all at once' lifestyle. But was I? And are you? We'll see.



What does the term multitasking entail?


First off, we must know what we're dealing with there. Multitasking can be any of the below:


1. Performing two or more tasks at the same time

2. Switching back and forth from one thing to another

3. doing a number of tasks in rapid succession


There is a common misconception that women can multitask while men fail miserably trying. Why? I'm not sure, but here's a rumor for you (my Mom actually told me this when I was little. I don't have any research to back it up, but it always kinda made sense to me).


Way back when, when men were masters of the hunt and women stayed at home in the cave or tent or whatever it may have been, men developed something called a tunnel vision. Their main job was to feed their families, therefore, to hunt. While hunting, had their eyes fixed on one thing and one thing only: their prey. You can't have chit-chats with your tribemates or pick some flowers on the way. No, your full concentration is given to the task at hand. Women back then on the other hand would stay at the campsite, and a tunnel vision would have been their least helpful tool.

They were over watching the whole area, keeping an eye on the children running around, making sure the food doesn't burn and simultaneously craft equipment and clothing. Therefore they acquired more of an overlook on things. While I love this story and I can see it being where the multitasking rumors started, we can't translate it into today's world and therewith justify multitasking as something that makes sense.


Now, whether you're a woman or a man - you can't multitask. Or should I say you can't do it effectively? Or maybe you can, if you're one of 2.5% of the world's population. Cause that's how many people can actually multitask. For the rest of us it probably looks a little bit like this:



We are wired to mono-task, which means, meant to do one thing at a time. Switching between two or more activities can seriously impact our ability to perform at our finest.


Here's why:


Every time you start a task or a project, your brain 'tunes in' so to speak. You focus on this one task and your brain's like: 'okay, we're writing a blog, sounds good.' Your brain is in the zone. If you're focused and then switch to a different task, your brain needs about half a second to 'tune in' to that new task. And then half a second to tune back into that first task and so on... you get the picture.


Half a second though? Come on...


I'm very aware that half a second isn't a lot, but that's not including taking the time to correct mistakes. Dividing our attention is hindering our ability to perform even simple tasks. Multitasking can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent! Makes sense though, right? More tasks = more mistakes. When doing numerous things at once, your mind is torn between them so it’s only to be expected that your mistakes will increase. So not only are we wasting time tuning in and out of different tasks, but we're also losing time correcting the increased amount of mistakes we are making while 'multitasking'.



#doingitall #ohyeah


I've been monitoring my own multitasking habits over the past month and was actually kinda shocked by what I discovered. I (try to) multitask a lot! And not effectively! Here are some of my real life examples.


Jammin'


I love having music playing when I'm working on my website, my blog, do work for clients. LOOOVING IT. But it has to be the right kind of music. The other day I told Alexa to play my work playlist. Alexa decided to misunderstand me and played my workout playlist. Well, I was working on this blog and ended up having a full-on dance party in my kitchen. By myself. Yea. It took me about 10 minutes (after the party was over) to get back into 'the zone' and continue to write. When I'm reading something I have to have either instrumental music or music in a language that I don't understand. If it's in English or German it messes me up and I read the same sentence over and over again because I start to sing along with the song and listen to the lyrics.


DnD (no, fellow nerds, not Dungeons & Dragons)


I started using the 'Do Not Disturb' button on my iPhone and it has been fantastic. Every time a text would come in I'd read it (while working on something) and I'd have to reply. As it shows that I read it, so it would be rude not to, right? But I'd always have to backtrack a few steps when I'd get back to my work because I'd be out of the zone and it would take me way longer to finish something. So with the DnD button, I actually enjoy working on a project for a few hours without any distractions.


Respawning in peace


My phone. again. While playing video games with my hubby I die a lot (I guess I'm not very good...). Every time I'd die and respawn for about 20 seconds, I'd check my social media. Even though I just checked it 5 mins ago (the last time I died). And after doing the research for this blog I realized how much this was actually stressing me out. I got way angrier while playing a game and didn't really enjoy myself. It was hard for me to just do nothing. Just wait to respawn. I started putting my phone away while playing video games and it's been a whole new experience. I still die a lot, but at least I'm chill about it.



Multitasking is affecting a lot of things - not positively, unfortunately.



Attentiveness


Heavy media multitaskers (media multitasking means using TV, the Web, radio, phone, print, or any other media in conjunction with another) have participated in several studies to compare to light media multitaskers. And guess what! The heavy media multitaskers did worse on tests that included task-switching. I had to read that research multiple times, I didn't believe it. But now it actually makes sense. Heavy media multitaskers struggle with keeping irrelevant information out. The struggle to focus on one thing, the one thing that's important as they have all the irrelevant facebook posts, silly text messages or the commercial on the TV buzzing around in the back of their minds.


Let's talk about texting and driving. It is illegal for a reason, it's not just another law, no, our brain literally isn't capable of doing both activities safely and well at the same time.

I'm very ashamed of the following example, but if my own blog isn't a safe place to share, what is?

I was driving on a deserted back road about 6 months ago, really, no one was in sight. So I decided to text a friend back (about something totally not urgent). I kept looking up at the road, every 5 seconds maybe. I didn't realize that I had started to drift into the left lane. And suddenly there were two bikers right in front of me. I yanked my steering wheel to the right in time, so nothing happened. But looking in my rearview mirror I saw one of the bikers swerve dangerously. He got a huge scare! Didn't know if I was gonna make it out of his lane in time and struggled to find his balance again. My legs got all weak and I felt horrible about my ignorance. That was the last time I texted while driving!



Learning


Did you use to do your homework with your phone next to you? Looking at it every time it went off? Thought you learn better with the music blaring in the background? Me too.

Attention is essential to learning! Engaging in multitasking at an early age can seriously impact the ability to learn and tune the rest of the world out and focus on the relevant task at hand. Over time, this makes it really hard to engage in deeper processing and learning.

There's a saying from the 1700's:

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day if you do but one thing at once. But there is not enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.”

In essence, the more we multitask the less we are able to get done as we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn.



Mindfulness


This one is very important to me personally and I feel like it's a big issue in the world.

Do you ever go out for coffee or dinner with someone and they have their phone on the table next to them? You're in the middle of a conversation and their phone goes off, they look at it, read the text and reply to it saying to you: "you can continue talking, I'm still listening." No. No, you're not. This is something that bothers me SO much and I actually want to get up and leave whenever that happens. Not only is it rude, but it also ties in with the whole multitasking thing. We think we have to be everywhere all the time, instead of just living in the moment and actually giving your opposite our undivided attention.

Or forgetting someone's name right after they introduce themselves and then saying 'sorry, I'm bad with names.' You're really not, you just didn't care enough to focus on the individual in front of you. Your mind was distracted and therefore was unable to take on or retain that new piece of information.

People who are mindful are able to do more than merely pay attention, they do so on purpose and in the present moment and it is a really beautiful thing to be with a person who is attentive.


It was interesting for me to find out that many therapies based 'simply' on mindfulness help patients that suffer from anxiety, depression, ADHD and chronic pain. Being mindful helps us to be more proactive instead of reactive and therefore live a less stressful life.

A study conducted at Stanford University revealed how multitasking adds stress to our everyday lives, it negatively affects our mood, motivation, and productivity.



Creativity


This one kinda blew my mind. I never connected it like this before. But you'll see, it makes total sense!

Working memory is what we use to process new information, come up with ideas. As our minds are constantly distracted when we're trying to multitask, there is never enough working memory left to truly come up with something great, something creative. You'll get your stuff done, sure, at an average rate and scope but greatness will be far out of your reach. You wanna know why?

We just found out that dividing our attention can make us anxious, right? Well, here's what happens if the human body is anxious:

When anxious, our bodies start focusing on the more primitive brain structures, designed to keep us safe from danger. When that happens we stop accessing other areas of the brain, the frontal lobe per example. The frontal lobe is used for critical thinking and creativity.

There, creativity goes out the window.





How do I get away from multitasking?


Multitasking is a waste of time, we are better of not trying to attempt it. In today's world, it's so easy to slip into the 'doing everything at once' mode; we probably don't even realize we are doing it.

I'm still trying to get better at at the whole thing myself, but I have started doing things like putting my email inbox and my social media on hold; I give both designated times in my day. When I'm working on a blog, I only have tabs open that are related to it. No facebook or twitter, so I don't see when a message comes in. I focus on my work for a designated amount of time and make sure I stop when that time slot is up (as valuing our personal time is just as important, but that's a topic for another day).


Try those things and don't just go where life kicks you, be present and make your own decisions. Don't be reactive to your environment. Be proactive! It will take a lot of stress and anxiety out of your day and will give you the feeling of being in control.

Value your relationships and value your time spent with others in the moment. It's hard in the beginning but keep telling your wandering brain to come back to the now.


Alright, now stop reading blog posts and get back to work! ;)

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©2019 Debora Cavett Virtual Assistant + The Wednesday Project