You Can't Multitask. Here's What You Can Do.

If you’re reading this, trying to answer a few emails, and checking Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/etc, then STOP!

You’re doing all of those things less effectively, and taking more time to do them, than if you just focused on one task at a time.

What your brain is doing isn't multitasking, it's task-switching.

Task-switching is going back and forth from one task to another. This happens quickly enough that we perceive it to be seamless and more effective, but that switching is robbing us of fluidity, concentration, and productivity.

Task-switching is easier when you are doing things that are automatic and implanted deep in your muscle memory or unconscious behavior, like walking and chewing gum.

It gets much more challenging as the tasks become unfamiliar or complex.

For instance, having a simple conversation on the phone and driving your usual path to work, leaves you less prepared to do either really well. But if the conversation gets heated, or draws significant cognitive resources, and something unexpected happens, like a car swerving into your lane, your chances of getting into a traffic accident spike.

The unexpected has occurred, and your brain wasn't able to switch tasks fast enough.

So how does this play out in group dynamics and interpersonal relationships?

Essentially, if you’re paying attention to something else, you’re not paying attention to the people around you.

This manifests itself in any number of ways. For example;

* The manager who professes to care about the development of his or her team, but during every conversation has their phone out on the desk and answers those persistent knocks at the door. Distracted much?

* The partner who is always on her technology during meetings, and you’re never sure if she knows what's happening, and whether or not she's invested.

* The peer who can’t seem to sit still and focus to go deep on the subject at hand. He flits back and forth between different topics or ideas like a person who can’t mentally ‘sit still’.

If any of these sound familiar, remember that by exhibiting these behaviors we're damaging our standing within the group, and marginalizing our contribution.

We're also sending a clear signal that 'this other thing is more important than you are'.


So, what should you do?

- First, admit it’s a problem and that you want to take action.

Admit that you’re not the one person who can multi-task when the rest of us are task-switching.

Still not convinced? Try this.

Admit that it’s compromising your relationships.

Admit that it’s an ingrained behavior that requires deliberate and attentive change.

- Second, teach yourself how to focus.

It’ll take some time, so go easy on yourself. There are lots of ways you can start moving to a place of single-minded focus. Mindfulness. Meditation. Turn off your technology for periods of time each day. And leave your phone off the dinner table!

- Third, take breaks.

Odds are you're multitasking because you're bored of whatever you were doing, or you're becoming mentally fatigued. Instead of just switching to something else, try switching off.

- Finally, make your commitment public.

Engage your friends, family, and coworkers. Get them bought into making the change with you. This is a big challenge for many of us and I bet you’ll be surprised how many others want in with you. And public commitments succeed more often.

Technology is your 'frenemy'

An environment of constant technological stimulus is upon us and it's amplifying our multitasking problems.

We did it to ourselves with marvelous technological precision.

Our technology, our social media, our email, and our marketing, are all built, honed, and constantly perfected to grab our attention.

We live in an age of abundance, and if we’re not responsible with our consumption, we’ll find that we’ve consumed our way into technological obesity and simultaneously starved our way into authentic relationship malnourishment.

Just as fast-food every day is not suitable for our dietary needs, and a sedentary lifestyle precipitated by easy transportation and engaging entertainment is not suitable for our physical necessities, an overindulgence in technology is not healthy for our evolutionary need for genuine and deep relationships.


The myth of multitasking is coming to an end, with more and more people realizing that the ability to focus is key to peak performance.

So, what will you do?


Recent Posts
RSS Feed
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Like what you read?  Follow @smithandgrey on Twitter for regular thoughts.