We’ve all been there, either in class, at work or on a date, well-focused and interested and then suddenly your phone vibrates.. Whether it’s a Tweet, a FB notification, an email from work or simply a text from your friend, the temptation is often too overwhelming to resist. But that’s alright, you’re an accomplished multitasker. After all, you’ve been answering your email while listening to a conference or listening to music while going through files forever and that never failed you. So you thought.
As a side effect of the overly technological world in which we live, we all multitask to a certain extend. But are we really mindful of the repercussions it has our productivity? Firstly let us agree on what multitasking actually is. As defined in Psychology Today, you’re multitasking when you’re accomplishing two tasks simultaneously. Seems broad enough of a definition, but according the same website, there are two underlying conditions. The first one is that at least one of the tasks needs to be so well-learned that it is an automatism, like running or eating. The other condition is that they need to involve different types of brain processing. For instance, you could read while listing to classical music, or run while listening to a podcast because both activities are soliciting different areas of the brain. However, it is suggested in that same article that listening to music with lyrics in a language you master while reading in that same language severely impedes one’s understanding. Accordingly, if you’re a self-proclaimed multi-tasker because you recite Dante’s Inferno while reading its meta-analysis with the latest record of the Black Keys on, you might not get much out of it. Sad but true.
Upon reading several articles, I recently discovered that I was actually a ‘serial-tasker‘, and you might very well be on the same boat. Rather than engaging in simultaneous tasks, serial-tasker will rapidly shift from one to another. You’ll read a little, then go update your status on Facebook, go back to your readings before sending a quick text to you lover. You dive into something for a short time before stepping out briefly and getting back into it, and that’s incredibly counterproductive. Indeed some researches suggest that you brain needs a certain time to adapt to the new task and that by switching from one to another you lose an awful lot of time, cognitive energy and focus. They go as far as suggesting that it takes up to 40% more time to accomplish something than if you were single-tasking.
Now I could mention countless studies supporting the fact that multitasking, or serial-tasking’ and they would all lead to the same conclusions: less efficient, less productive, not as well-done. Consequently, even in a world filled with distractive new technologies, you need to single task. It doesn’t imply not to use technology, but reprogram your mind to focus, prioritize and commit to only one thing. When you’ll have focused on one thing for long enough, then you can reward yourself with a little facebooking or watch the newly released video of Lana Del Rey on youtube…