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Forget multitasking and focus

Does trying to read the news updates crawling across the bottom of the television screen while attending to the main program frustrate you? Do you get engaged in the interview and then catch a glimpse of the end of a news update “…dead at 21”? Do you spend the next 20 minutes trying to figure out who died? 

We delude ourselves into believing our multitasking efforts result in saving valuable time. This false belief is reinforced by time management experts prescribing multitasking as a time saving tool and a civilization that demands constant and overlapping activity.

The research is clear. Our brains are designed for focus and it is when we concentrate that we are at our productive and inventive best. Scattered attention guarantees we do neither task well and research reveals that the stress hormone, cortisol, is released into the system. Far from a time-saving approach, multitasking is a time waster and a stress inducer. 

Multiple experiments have shown that focusing on one task at a time delivers the most effective and efficient results.

Can we do two things at once? Yes. On the condition that one of the two things is habitual and unconsciously done (not requiring creative or cognitive thought). For example, driving a car while listening to an audio book is easily done unless you’re on icy or unfamiliar roads that require your focus and attention.  Walking and carrying on a conversation is a breeze on familiar terrain. Reading while exercising on the treadmill can provide a useful distraction.

However, when both activities demand your complete attention, choose one. The next time you find yourself reading an email while talking on the phone, texting while driving, checking your iPhone in a meeting, completing a puzzle while interacting with your kids, reading PowerPoint slides while listening to a speaker – pause and remind yourself to focus on one task at a time. 

Slow down and focus.  It’s a quick, no-cost approach to increasing productivity and reducing stress.


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