The notorious myth of multitasking involves performing a number of tasks simultaneously or in rapid succession. Many Americans are guilty of it and some even believe it is helping them get more tasks done at a faster rate. 

The neuroscience is clear though: the brain is meant to mono-task not multi-task. One study from Time Magazine found that only around 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. This leads to thousands of individuals with smartphones in hand, ear buds in place, and ready to take on the days’ tasks while staying connected to electronics all at the same time. As we divide our attention to complete all of these tasks, it is becoming increasingly harder to complete even a simple task.  

Most importantly, multitasking impacts attentiveness, learning, and mindfulness in your professional and personal life.

Attentiveness – you have probably heard about attentiveness and how it relates to texting and driving together. Driving laws about using your cell phone while driving are based on clear scientific data. Dual tasking, such as doing a linguistic or auditory task during a driving simulation is associated with reduced activity in regions of the brain important for attention. This directly correlates to why multitasking does not help us get more done at work. If an individual cannot drive a car and text, then it would not make sense that we can text a friend, take notes at a meeting, and prepare a presentation for tomorrow all at once. Multi-tasking adopts a style of attention that is parallel processing all of the information sources a person is consuming, while it is more effective to focus on one primary task. 

Learning – have you stated or heard a colleague state, “there is not enough time in the day to get everything done”. Many of you are probably familiar with this statement and have felt this way at some point whether it was in college or in your current job. Initially you think this is helpful and you are getting more done. On the other hand, do you actually understand the content you need to learn? Most likely not. The more we multitask, the less we are able to accomplish because we are loosing our ability to focus enough to learn. Attention to one single task is essential to learning. 

Mindfulness – being mindful and present in the workplace is a necessity to deliver the best results and make the proper decisions with your colleagues. Mindfulness enhances creativity, focus, and productivity. At the same time, if you are not mindful and present with your colleagues, you might struggle to make connections with co-workers and feel you are making a difference through your work. 

Think about the job of a surgeon: Many think about the steadiness and precision of his or her hands to work on a patient for hours at once. The real secret here is the proficiency of a surgeon to focus on a single patient for hours at a time to complete a series of difficult tasks. The outcome could take hours to finish, but surgeons consistently must come ready and prepared to deliver the desired outcome.

Here are three easy ways to improve your attention from frequent multitasking:

  1. Turn off your email notifications! 
  2. Turn your phone off and over. 
  3. Set a timer for ten or twenty minutes and practice working for a short burst with all of the irrelevant information filtered out. 

Get started today!


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