Do NOT do everything at once... Do One Thing At A Time.
Updated: Jul 26
12 Things NOT TO DO...
Do NOT do everything at once... Do One Thing At A Time.
Have you ever heard the term multitasking? This term for "doing more than one thing at a time was originally used for the first computers. A computer is not hindered by "focus" like the human brain. If you add memory you add capacity. So a computer can literally think separately about different tasks at the same time. It can work different equations at the same time. In fact, the average home computer today can perform 2 Billion tasks per second. And if you think that is impressive, the fastest supercomputer in the US called Summit, can perform 200,000-Trillion calculations per second! (yes that is two-hundred thousand, trillion) And we humans have a difficult time taking an accurate phone message while looking at their emails of Facebook. Trust me, I've had some faulty sticky notes from assistants.
In the last issue we discussed the method of Time Blocks in scheduling. We explored how you can maximize the productivity of each hour of the day if you simply "plan" them. Time Blocking allows you to accomplish a lot more items during a given day, BUT it does so by separating them and helping you focus on one thing at a time. It is not multitasking. It is literally "Singletasking". It is that topic we are going to dive into today.
"There is no such thing as multitasking. You can work at a task and do it well, or you can work at a task without focus and do it poorly."
Multitasking is a Myth
So the true term multitasking originally described how a computer can accomplish a large amount of thinking at the same time and was coined around 1965. Fast-forward twenty years to 1985. Some genius (sarcasm tone), decides to make a million dollars selling the latest self-help technique they made up in the shower one morning, and comes up with multitasking for humans. "Hey, there is a way for you to get SOOO much more done in your day. Just do more than one thing at a time. It's called Multitasking. So get on the phone, while reading a book, writing in your notebook, adding on the calculator, and drinking your coffee..." Sound like logic? No? That's because it is not logical. So from this point on in our discussion let's be clear that we are discussing humans and not computers. Here we go.
Multitasking is a MYTH. There is no such thing as multitasking (as applied to humans).
You can work at a task and do it well, or you can work at a task without focus and do it poorly, or worse not complete it at all. Let's go deeper.
The human brain IS a truly remarkable thing. And it DOES actually perform a massive amount of tasks at the same time. Approximately a Billion, Billion tasks. However these are mostly all autonomous functions like, "muscles, move to breath, heart pump, stomach produce acid to dissolve food, and so on." There are literally billions of small signals necessary for your brain to send out each second, in order to keep your body alive and functioning. These however are not conscious, thought-type tasks. The human brain is designed to focus on one, yes one conscious task at a time. We have an amazing sense of things around us like peripheral vision, and quick response to dangerous smells or sounds. But when it comes to complex thought like reading a book, listening to someone talk, working on a computer, running a crane, driving a car etc... Our mental capacity is most successful when applied to one thing. Let's look at some examples.
Consider the following:
Would you rather your UBER driver: A. Focus on the road and the route, or B. Do their college homework while driving you?
Would you rather your airline pilots: A. Focus on flying the plane, or B. Play cards during takeoff and landing?
Would you rather: A. Golf in silence, or B. Have a construction crew building condos on the side of all the holes you play that day?
Would you rather the guy who packed your parachute: A. Was a 10 year chute pack veteran, or B. Was a part time student, guitar playing, waiter from Olive Garden?
So what is the common theme in those questions. FOCUS.
a: :a point of concentration
b: :a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding
c: distinct vision
d: :to cause to be concentrated
e: :to concentrate attention or effort
Some of this discussion seems to just be common sense right? OBVIOUSLY, you'd rather
have your UBER drive pay 100% attention to driving. And we all know distractions are the most annoying thing ever in the workplace, or anywhere else you're trying hard to concentrate. But here are a few things you may not know:
Multi-task thinking harms your short term memory:
A study from the University of California found that multitasking actual harms your short-term memory, or "working memory". Part of your brain is used like computer RAM memory, where it stores bits of information you access a lot, for quick retrieval .This portion of the brain works much less effectively in those who attempt to regularly think about more than one thing at a time.
Multi-task thinking leads to increased anxiety:
Neuroscientists found that multitasking literally drains you minds creative energy reserves. This causes you to lose focus and become more anxious.
Multi-task thinking stops you from getting into a state of "flow":
Flow is the state of mind where we're so focused on a task that our productivity skyrockets. In one study executives found they were 500% more productive while in flow. However "flow" requires sustained effort and immense focus. Multi-task concentration gets in the way of this preventing the brains ability to zero in on the topic.
Multi-task thinking causes more mistakes and less productivity:
Multiple studies have found that multitasking causes people to take longer to do simple tasks, drops your IQ by an average of 10 points, and can even have the same negative impact as losing a nights sleep.
Ok, so what does all this teach us? The concept of focusing on more than one thing at a time is as non productive as the old saying, "If you chase two rabbits, both will get away." It is VITAL that you learn to discipline your mind and your work habits to truly focus on the task at hand, nail it, then move on to the next one.
Now, there are some tips you can apply to assist you in this. These are practices used by the worlds top business leaders, politicians, and celebrities. They assist them in accomplishing what most of us would consider "large" or "great" feats of work. Really they are just ultra-focused for a period of time and using the human brain to its fullest extent. Here are some practical methods they use for minimizing distraction. I employ many of these in my daily life.
When focusing on a task or meeting with someone Turn your Phone to silent and PERMANENTLY turn off "vibrate" mode. Also keep the phone upside down or in a pocket. Hearing or feeling a loud buzzing, or seeing the screen light up is just as distracting as the ring.
ONLY turn on and answer email during scheduled times of the day.
ALWAYS use Do Not Disturb mode on your phone, while driving.
Schedule your day into Time Blocks and during each block ONLY focus on that item. No calls, texts, or other distractions.
When taking a lunch break do NOT bring a computer or iPad. Really relax for 30-60 minutes. It will recharge you for the rest of the day with up to 200% more focus.
Let others know the rules of your schedule so they understand why you are not available. They will also respect the fact that when you are available for them you'll be 100% focused on them.
During personal time, family time, workout time, do NOT have phone/text available. Your down time will make you 100's of % more productive during work time.
"Singular focus on a task will enable you to perform your very best at accomplishing it. "
There are literally thousand of articles, books, and other resources you can find to learn more about focus, and the negative impact of multi-task thinking. Hopefully today you have learned enough to apply some simple methods to the overall conversation we are having in this series. I would like you to walk away remembering that singular focus on a task will enable you to perform your very best at accomplishing it. Racking up a string of successes, over time, is the formula you need to achieve success with the goals from your plan. Applying "Single-Task" thinking to your time blocks will help "stack the deck" in your favor, and maximize your results.
In our next issue of 12 Things NOT To Do... we will move to the little taught lessons of failing forward. Talk to you then.