Juggling Too Much?

Multitasking makes you less effective.

by Dennis L. Prince
- Aug 17, 2015

Have you ever juggled razor-sharp knives, the sort that, with just one lapse in perfect concentration, could make it eminently more difficult to ever find a suitable pair of winter gloves again?

Welcome the return of single tasking, a focused way of working that can actually gain you more

Even if you don't have such daring aspirations, have you ever believed you were so fine-tuned you could manage three, four, five or more tasks simultaneously? That's what multitasking is all about. You think, "I can do more at one time than most people do in an entire day."

But though multitasking may look impressive, it can also be detrimental. Welcome the return of single tasking, a focused way of working that can actually gain you more than if you attempt to complete your work appearing as some out-of-control whirling dervish. Stop for a moment, take a deep breath and allow yourself to consider this approach (without attempting to do three other things while you read this).

The truth about multitasking

Many of us have come to believe we're managing multiple things at the same time with remarkable ease and efficiency. Through multitasking, we're getting more done and doing it better than our forebears could ever imagine. The truth is, we're not so efficient and, by multitasking, we might even be doing worse than those who have gone before us.

The science of the matter is that we're each given only one brain, and most of them function pretty much the same way. According to Scientific American, it's the prefrontal cortex that's summoned to do our complex thinking, and it only entertains one problem—or thinking activity—at a time. Sure, it can be trained to think faster, but it's still a one-seat vehicle on the neurological highway.

Even so, it would appear that our brains have changed in the modern age. After all, we can text while walking, we can listen to music while talking and we can play Candy Crush while watching TV. Or can we?

Scientists have determined that doing many activities at once really serves to lessen the full awareness of what we're doing. In a work environment, studies show that multitaskers tend to shift focus about every 3 minutes, they have increased difficulty maintaining longer-term focus, and they show the effects of fatigue and stress. This is because they're in a perpetual mode of shifting gears. Simply put: They're burning out.

Single tasking makes most sense

Scientists have determined that doing many activities at once really serves to lessen the full awareness of what we're doing

So rather than grind up your gray matter trying to do so much at once, consider that you can be far more productive when you give each task your full attention. Here's how single tasking can improve your results and your well-being:

You'll save time. It's true. How many times have you been multitasking and find yourself needing to go over what you've just done for a second time (because you weren't properly focused the first time)? Have you ever asked someone, "I'm sorry. Can you repeat that?" Have you ever leaped up to go get something only to completely forget what it was you needed?

If so, you lacked focus and now you need to take more time to retrace your thoughts (and steps) to complete your task. That takes time and that's counterproductive.

You'll make fewer mistakes. Directly related to the previous point, the lack of focus you had while multitasking often leads to mistakes in your work, in misplacing things (ever accidentally put the milk into the pantry?) and in completely forgetting important tasks altogether.

You'll be more productive. When you can fully focus on a task, you can complete it quicker, you can ensure you're more accurate and thorough in what you do, and you'll remember more of what you've done in case you need to recall that work later.

You'll enjoy greater creativity. When you single task, you can engage your whole brain, left and right, in your endeavor. This lets the analytical side attend to all the tactical matters, and engages your creative side in considering and applying more interesting and effective ways to achieve a result.

You'll feel less stressed. Most important, a focused method lets you enjoy doing a task to completion and with satisfaction. You won't later wonder if you did everything you needed to do or if you did it correctly. That task is done, 100 percent. You focused. You finished. Now you can relax.

Train yourself to focus

The problem is, once you've operated as a multitasker, it's a hard habit to kick. Some of us even get antsy if we don't feel we've over-committed ourselves. To break the grip of the multitasking mindset, you need to take deliberate actions:

Eliminate all things that cause your mind to wander away from the task at hand

Start with a to-do list. Note the items you need to do each day, then get to work on them one at a time.

Do each task to completion. Start each task and do it until it's done—completely. If that seems unreasonable, meaning many tasks can't be completed in a single effort, then break those down into smaller tasks, those that can be done to completion.

Block out interruptions. Close your Internet browser while working on a task. Shut down your email window. Let voicemail pick up your calls. Essentially, develop a virtual administrative assistant that will screen interruptions while you're focused on a task. Then plan time to read and respond to email, phone calls and so on.

Remove distracting items from your workspace. What business does a TV have in your office? Is that music really soothing you or causing you to sing songs in your head when you should be thinking? Eliminate all things that cause your mind to wander away from the task at hand.

How does this help your business?

Simply put, the more you can focus on your tasks, clearly and to completion, the more you'll get done, accurately and with less time spent. Those are the hallmarks of a profitable business, one that runs smoothly, efficiently and with as little rework as possible.

In business, the ability to work this way and reap the results is what adds revenue to your bottom line. And now that you've finished reading this, what will you focus on next?

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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