Do these three things to become an effective multitasker | #RTYBtips Episode 4
Aloha and welcome back to my blog. If you’re new here, welcome, my name is Ella and I help you retrain your brain! If you don’t know anything about me yet, back in 2008 I survived a hemorrhagic stroke and a slew of mental health struggles before and after that. It took me until 2018 to start turning that rock bottom feeling I had into my breakthrough and I have not looked back since. Now, I post every other Sunday teaching you how to turn your rock bottom into your breakthrough. If you don’t want to miss any up coming posts, make sure you subscribe here. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram where I am more active day-to-day.
Today I want to talk about three things you can do to start multi-tasking effectively. We are going to jump right into this post…
1) Recognize that it is Humanly Impossible to do two things at once
When we hear the word multi-tasking, we tend to think of doing two or more things at the same time. But if we want to be effective with our actions, we need to understand that is impossible for the human brain to do two or more high-level tasks at the same time.
While researching multitasking for this video, I found a great article on from the Harvard Business Review. The article was written by Paul Atchley, Ph.D. who is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Kansas.
In the article, Atchley states, “[b]ased on over a half-century of cognitive science and more recent studies on multitasking, we know that multitaskers do less and miss information. It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%. Long-term memory suffers and creativity — a skill associated with keeping in mind multiple, less common, associations — is reduced.”
First let’s talk about efficiency, meaning maximum production in minimal time. Now regardless whether efficiency drops by 40% (because the number is obviously variable), it can definitely be said that efficiency drops. In fact, a 2008 research article from the University of California states that “people compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price: experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort.”
Second, let’s talk about how long it takes to re-orient / focus after moving your attention. According to the Harvard Business Review article (that sadly had no sources), it takes an average of 15 minutes to focus your attention on a task. Again, I am sure this number is variable, but I think it’s fair to say that focusing your attention requires time. Once you put in that necessary time, you can enter a state -called the flow state – which allows you to be highly focused on completing the task at hand. By the way, if you don’t know what the flow state is or how to achieve it, then make sure to checkout this YouTube video I did all about achieving a flow state, right below.
Now I want to make a very important point. When I did my first Google search on “multitasking”, it brought up a blog post briefly discussing the 2008 UofC research article. When I clicked on the citation in that blog post, it didn’t even bring me to the research article itself. Instead, it brought me to another blog post discussing the article. When I clicked on the citation in that second blog post, it did in fact take me to the research article. But as I read through it, I realized both blog posts interpreted the research completely wrong. So now there are two blog posts out there talking about legitimate research (which was very interesting by the way), but both blog posts have inaccurate information. This is so sad for multiple reasons but the main one is that the every day person is much more likely to get their information from an easy to read blog post, rather than from a direct source. So please please please remember to read through the cited resources if you are getting information from a blog post; in order to not continue spreading misinformation, you want to get information as close to first-hand as possible.
Alright, so we established that both focus and efficiency drops as a result of shifting your attention from task 1 to task 2 and back to task 1 again, for example. So why is the title of this video, “Do these three things to become an effective multitasker”? That’s because although doing two things at the exact same time is impossible, re-orienting your attention from one task to another is completely possible. Once you realize what is possible, you essentially re-define what you think multitasking means.
That’s why the second thing you can do to become an efficient multitasker is …
2) Learn to split your attention faster
If you want to go from task 1, to task 2, and back to task 1 effectively, start by allocating a sufficient amount time for re-focus on each task. So if it does take an average of 15 minutes to focus your attention, try allocating at least 30 minutes per task.
Task 1 –> 30 minutes
Task 2 –> 30 minutes
Task 1 –> 30 minutes
I also recommend setting a timer for each task so you don’t find your eyes constantly leaving your task and gravitating toward the clock on your wall or, worse, the time on your electronic device. If you find you attention wanes after 30 minutes of working on a task anyways, switching to a second task at that time can be a great way to stay productive and motivated.
The second thing you can do to split your attention faster is eliminate distractions. If you know you want to focus on doing task 1 and task 2 for 90 minutes total, alternating tasks 30 minutes at a time, the last thing you want is to turn 1 30-minute focus session into 15 minute session because you picked up your phone and started scrolling through social media. So turn off your notifications, realize you are not missing out on anything, and focus on what is important. If you find you get distracted by your own thoughts, I recommend doing an exercise I posted on my blog on how to quiet your inner distractions. Click here to complete that exercise.
Also remember to ask yourself, “is it necessary for me to multitask right now?” Usually, the answer is “no” because you are always most productive when doing 1 task to completions rather than alternating back-and-forth.
The third way you can become an effective multitasker is …
3) Pick two tasks to do at the same time – one automated/habitual
Although we already established you cannot do 2 high level tasks at one time, by picking one task that is relatively automated and the other that requires more intention but is still a simple task (i.e. a task that requires 1 to 3 movements), splitting your attention is easier.
Also ensure the consequence of not focusing on these tasks will not be catastrophic (e.g. texting and driving vs. squatting while brushing teeth).
There are a few tasks I can successfully multitask because one of the tasks are automated and the other is a low level movement. Let me know if you do any of them too:
- Brushing my Teeth + Body Weight Squats
Because I use an electric toothbrush to brush my teeth, it is a task that does not require much attention and has become habitual. That said, it is quite easier for me to do body weight squats while brushing my teeth.
2. Straightening my hair + Listening to podcasts
Because straightening my hair is a fairly habitual and monotonous task, it is easy for me to pay attention to a podcast in the background.
3. Peddle on stationary bike + Reading
Again, because peddling on the stationary bike requires more momentum and less focus, I am able to read at the same time.
Do you multitask with certain activities? Does your job require you to multitask? Share in the comment box below 🙂
As always, if you found this post helpful, don’t forget to share it with one friend. I hope you have a great day and don’t forget to make this the #YearofYou!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Any information and content on my website is not a substitute for professional health advice.