I was a long time, hardcore multi-tasker. I would be working on a project on my computer while I made dinner and took pics/video of the cooking process to share on social media. All while holding intermittent conversations with family members.
Did I mention that just about anytime I tried to do Instagram stories of my cooking that I ended up burning something? But who cares – I was being super efficient and getting so much done!
But truth is, I wasn’t.
I wasn’t doing my best work. I wasn’t giving my projects my full focus. I was leaving out things that should have been done, burning dinner, and not giving my loved ones my full attention in our conversations.
It’s not all or nothing
I am not saying that you should never multitask. I often record video messages to my sisters using the Marco Polo app while I get ready in the morning or washing dishes. Or I listen to podcasts while I walk or commute. Not everything in life needs to be a single task.
But we also need to be truthful with ourselves when it comes to the quality of work and attention we are giving each task.
Are we only half listening to the people we are talking to because we are also focused on our phone, laptop, tv, etc? Are we doing our best work at our jobs or own businesses? Are we remembering to do the things we said we would do?
Multitasking doesn’t = efficiency
The idea behind multitasking is that you are doing multiple things simultaneously so that you work on multiple projects or to-do list items at once. Theoretically, this should lead to higher accomplishments and productivity.
However, continued research into multitasking has shown that the opposite is true. We get less done and we do lower quality work when we are constantly multitasking.
This is because when your brain has to switch from one task to another constantly or is interrupted by phone notifications or other shiny objects, something always suffers. While you may think you can easily jump back and forth, end work quality generally suffers as we lose our train of thought and get out of the “zone” of concentration. This interesting research by Stanford found how distracted multitaskers were and how it affected their cognitive abilities.
Practicing mindfulness in all we do is key to staying in the moment, having our best focus, and doing our best work. When we are mindful of our activity, we can think more clearly, have better inspiration, and be super productive.
Breaking up with multitasking
Multitasking is probably ingrained in your personal life and workflow. You check emails and messages while you eat before rushing out the door. You reply to emails that ding on your computer or phone while you work on a work project. I know this was a very common practice for me. But I also knew that it really wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t making the progress I should in my work, and I was distracted constantly from my other tasks. I want to offer some suggestions to break up with multitasking.
1. Top 3 List
I like to write a to-do list for the day of things I’d like to accomplish. I try to be realistic as I write this, but also include extras that I’d love to accomplish. I then pick the top 3 that either absolutely NEED to get done or are things that I really want to get finished. These 3 are my main focus for the day. Once I finish those, I pick my next top 1-2 items and go from there.
2. Only work on one
I don’t try to do more than one item at a time. I pick one to start with and go from there. I work on that task until it’s finished. The only exceptions to this are if there’s some wait time (like waiting forever for my slow internet to upload a video to my YouTube channel). I don’t switch back and forth between my top 3 tasks or between the task at hand and my email, phone, etc.
3. Minimize distractions
When I’m trying to get a project done – whether it’s for work, my business, or our home – I get rid of all distractions. If I’m working on my laptop, I close every program except what I’m using. All email is shut down (unless of course I’m working on email replying!). My phone gets silenced and often left in another room on the charger. If you are working at home with others, it is also helpful to tell them that you are working on a project for the next hour and to please not interrupt unless it’s an emergency.
4. Don’t strive for perfection or “doing it all”
Because here’s the truth: nobody is perfect and no one can do it all. And some of the things you may put on your to-do list are things you probably shouldn’t be doing at all to make the most progress in your work and personal life. It’s very easy to get caught up in the busywork when really we should be focusing on the progress movers…the things we can do to really make progress towards our goals. So first, take a look at your to-do list and make sure you aren’t filling your time with things that aren’t moving you towards goals. Second, don’t exhaust yourself trying to do a massive amount of things in a day. Be respectful of your energy. Be respectful of your body & mental well being. Find balance in work, activity, sleep, and self-care.
5. Work on improving your focus
If you’ve been multitasking for years, you may have some trouble getting yourself to focus on one thing and to be mindful during activities. You will have to work to create more mindful behavior. Ways to improve your mindfulness and focus:
- Practice meditation – meditation is hands-down one of the best ways to get your mind better at focusing. It teaches you (and your mind) to be present and in the moment. It helps you learn to deal with the distractions that float in and to refocus. I love the Calm app, but there are other great free meditations on YouTube or through other sites. If you don’t like traditional meditation, you can try walking meditation where you walk and focus on your feet hitting the ground, your breathing, and your surroundings.
- Eat mindfully – when you eat, remove all distractions (phones, books, tv, etc.). Focus on what you are eating, how it tastes, smells, and feels. Chew slowly, enjoy the food! Focus on the people you are with. Have conversations, listen more than you speak.
- Alternate nostril breathing – This breathing technique helps to relax your body and clear your mind. To use this technique, use your right thumb to close off your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril, then plug your left nostril with your right ring finger. Release your thumb from your right nostril, and exhale. Now inhale through the right nostril, close it off again with the thumb, release your finger from your left nostril, and exhale. This completes one cycle. Repeat for 5-10 cycles or even for a few minutes.
One at a time…
I know this is a hard one to break. I still catch myself doing it more than I want. But I also know that I have seen the positive benefits of staying on task. Increased productivity, higher quality work, improved focus, better relationships, more awareness of what I’m doing… and less burnt food. 😉