I love multitasking! I love the feeling that I’m juggling a lot of balls at the same time. A gazillion years ago in college, when I was a barista at Starbucks, I loved having twenty drinks in my queue. I love simultaneously heating milk in one jug, foaming milk in another, while grinding beans into a fine espresso roast, while pulling a shot, while pumping cocoa. I loved all of that busy-ness and action. And, thus set out my life-long love affair with doing a multitude of tasks ALL at the SAME TIME.
And… thus set out some very bad habits that I try hard to break every day. The primary bad habit is an inability to focus on a project for very long. I have a modern-day-multitasking-technology A.D.D. This isn’t clinically diagnosed ADD… just a variety that I think many of us have in this day and age. We do something for 5-10 minutes and quickly need to move on to the next thing. Ultimately this back and forth, working around in circles, juggling many balls – MULTITASKING – is unproductive. It also makes us less effective in our work.
MULTITASKING = LACK OF PRODUCTIVITY
A few month’s ago NPR Radio did an interview with Dr. Clifford Nass of Stanford University who had conducted a study on people who multitask. The results were astounding. He was interested in researching “chronic multitaskers” – people who cannot do one single thing in a given time. These people must be watching TV while reading, checking email while chatting on the phone, and so on. In the interview, Dr. Nass observed that multitaskers think they are good at multitasking, but often they are not. Their work suffers on account of multitasking. The study also found that chronic multitaskers were surprisingly weak in the following three abilities:
- Filtering Information
“The ability to ignore irrelevant information and focus on relevant information. Multitaskers are suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant, and so the more irrelevant information they see, the more they’re attracted to it.”
- Manage Working Memory
“Imagine having very neat filing cabinets where you carefully and quickly place things in the right cabinet, and when you need the information, you immediately know which filing cabinet to go to.” Chronic multitaskers have a hard time keeping this organized.
- Slower at Switching Tasks
Chronic multitaskers are worse at switching tasks than other people.
In a nutshell, Nass’s study goes on to show that multitaskers are actually not good at multitasking and that it actually works against many of the skills that you think a multitasker has. This is a fascinating interview… I highly recommend listening (or reading) all of it here.
TRAINING YOURSELF TO FOCUS
In Julie Morgenstern’s book, “Never Check Email in the Morning”, she addresses the inability to focus on the task at hand. Her tip? Work at increasing your focus and attention span. You may be so accustomed to switching tasks every 5 minutes (GUILTY!) that it’s going to be challenging at first to focus on something for 2 hours. So start small. Start working on something, completely uninterrupted and focused for 10 minutes. On day 2, increase your focus time to 15 minutes… and so on. You’ll find after time, that you are actually accomplishing a LOT more when you can work on one project or task for large chunks of time. And your ability to filter information, utilize your working memory, and switch tasks will also improve.
I came across this post yesterday from Zen Habits blog: The Zen of Doing. There is a zen proverb that says, ““When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” Zen Habits’ author, Leo Babauta, writes, “Focus on doing one thing, right now. Just choose one thing, and clear away all other distractions. Seriously, clear it all away.” He goes on to explain that “By focusing on the doing, we drop our worries and anxieties, jealousies and anger, grieving and distraction.”
So… my challenge to all of you is to join me in breaking this habit of multitasking. This is a bad habit that I have to correct every few months. And, then I fall off the wagon (like dieting) and I have to jump back on again. While I wrote this blog post, I only checked my Twitter account once. 😉 Baby steps…