Can You Really Multi-Task?

One of the greatest fallacies is that of multi-tasking. All those people who do emails, while on a call and having a conversation at the same time, are really not accomplishing things as effectively as someone who concentrates their efforts on one thing at a time.

Studies on the impact of multi-tasking on one’s memory, learning, and cognitive functioning reveal some astonishing facts. First and foremost, multi-taskers pay a big mental price by processing too much irrelevant information. Too much irrelevant information you say? What happens when we multi-task is that our attention shifts from one activity to another. This back and forth results in an inability to pay attention to one thing at a time, memory control is diminished. Effectively, there is a lack of focus. Why do think governments are legislating anti-texting or anti-cell phone use while driving? You simply can’t focus on several things at the same time. If you do you lose focus on all things.

Take an introspective look at yourself. I’m more than certain you’ll find that you’re a multi-tasking follower, completely convinced you’re able to drive through one activity to the other with great efficiency and ease. I know I did, but when I actually thought about what I was doing and what I was thinking when I multi-tasked, I was more than a little surprised at how little I was actually doing. Don’t only take my word for it, researchers have found several common attributes of a multi-tasker. Let’s take a look:

  • Always stuck in gear: The multi-taskers have a difficult time redirecting their attention away from irrelevant information. They take in everything around them, resulting in a diminished ability to actually focus. How many times have you tried to work on a computer while listening to a conversation on a phone, only to realize you tuned out on what was happening on the phone? When this happens we usually innocently say that our mind was focusing on something then we sheepishly ask them to repeat what they said. This pretty well happens to me every time.
  • It doesn’t stick: Multi-taskers are poor at retaining things because they move on to the next task so quickly they don’t have time to register and retain important elements in their short-term memory.
  • Mental confusion: Multi-taskers end up doing things they shouldn’t be doing, and it interferes with the things they should be doing.

Being a multi-tasker may seem like it’s possible to do many things at the same time; the problem is that, although it may appear that way, they end up not doing anything well. If you simply concentrate on what’s really important, rather than on everything, you can begin to simplify your life. Part of the clutter we have in life is that we try to do too many things at the same time. Believe it or not, less is more, not the other way around. By changing simple things, like the way we do work, can lead to real, effective changes in our lives. Reduce the things you’re doing to increase the things you want to do. Changing your life begins with simple steps like this, not through grand gestures and shocks.

You have to have a certain focused alertness and not be afraid to toss things over the side of the ship. This is one of the hardest behavioral changes facing people. The easiest way to understand and embrace this principle is to imagine that you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have less than one year to live. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you find out what’s relevant and important. Goals come in clear perspective and action is focused and intense. The essence of managing your time isn’t to do all things, and by default, those things you don’t need to do. Realize what parts of the task you need to do and who’s best placed to do it. When dealing with changing priorities and goals, it becomes necessary to be ruthless. Remember, it’s impossible to do everything.

Are you doing what’s important, or just doing things?

Feel free to share your answer in the comments.

9 Responses to Can You Really Multi-Task?
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  7. Very happy to help – I would love to hear of any insights on dilemmas you’ve had.

    Robert Renaud

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