Multitasking, to many, is seen as a special skill. As you move up the ladder, it's a trait that seems critical to success and productivity. As you gain more influence and responsibility, the pressure to get more things done in a day builds. To keep up with the influx of requests, tasks, and work, we end up falling into a pattern of juggling multiple things at once.
If you're like me, multitasking has taken over my life. I brush my teeth while getting dressed. I make coffee while checking email. I listen to podcasts while driving to work. You get the picture. To only do one thing at once, seems wrong. You can help but think about what you're not doing. Multitasking helps us maximize every moment -- or so we think.
There are a lot of studies, including this one from Stanford, that now say multitasking is actually negatively affecting your productivity and mental stability. Despite how hard we try, the truth is that our brains can only manage one train-of-thought at a time. It makes sense, if you're constantly jumping from one thing to the next, then how could you fully concentrate?
Our obsession with doing multiple things at once doesn't stop at work. The thing about multitasking is that it's almost impossible to turn off. Like most behaviors, multitasking is not only a skill, but also a habit -- and it can be extremely difficult to break. Especially in the world we live in where electronics ping us with new updates and notifications on the regular.
It's officially become an epidemic. According to recent research, Americans check their phones an average of 80 times a day -- and, that's an average. Some admitted to as many as 300 times each day. If that wasn't alarming enough, the saddest part is that these numbers were recorded while people were supposed to be on vacation.
That stat made me think, if you're not careful, the urge to multitask will not only influence your effectiveness at work but can also rob you of your happiness. Although devices are supposed to increase our connectivity, they are often the cause of the exact opposite, feeling disconnected.
When I think back to some of my best memories, they were all ones where I was fully present. Getting married, the birth of my son and daughter, even skiing Mount Heavenly. I cherish those moments and feelings because I remember them -- hard to do if you're always jumping from one task to another.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in maximizing a moment, that we miss it altogether.
Here are three quick thoughts to help you sideline the urge to multitask:
1. Schedule quality time.
Set aside blocks of time each day and force yourself to focus on only one task. It's going to be difficult, so anything you can do to eliminate temptations is key. Minimize email, silence phones, and take off the smart watch.
My favorite hack to use is the Pomodoro Technique. In a nutshell, this method forces you to chunk your day into 25-minute time blocks. During that window, you only tackle one item at a time. You literally set a timer. It seems patronizing, but it works.
Obviously, this technique is to help tackle work-related tasks, so that you can spend quality time elsewhere. It may just be me, but my wife wouldn't appreciate a 25-minute shot clock.
2. Set boundaries on what you say "yes" to.
This is the hardest one for me, by far. I have a problem saying "no" and as a result, I often inadvertently over commit myself. Unfortunately, to create more margin, it's usually our families and personal lives that suffer the most from multitasking.
Ask yourself this simple question before taking on a new project: By saying "yes" to this, what will I have to say "no" to in the future? Make sure you can live with the answer.
3. Know your triggers.
We all have them. These are the little notifications or thoughts that can pull us out of the current moment and sidetrack us for hours (social media, emails, leftover to-do items, etc.)
By recognizing what triggers you to multitask, you can compartmentalize it and stay focused on being present in the current moment.
By trying to maximize every second of every day, we are missing important moments. If our brains can only manage one train-of-thought at one time, make sure you give the most important people in your life your attention.