Multi-tasking has become a highly-sought after skill. We all have so much to do, and only 24 hours a day to do it in. If we could learn to do two or three things at a time, we could get more done faster.
Yes, being able to multi-task sounds great. There’s just one problem.
It doesn’t really work.
The Truth about Multi-Tasking
Okay, maybe you have managed to do more than one thing at a time. For example, you sometimes answer phone calls while simultaneously going through your email.
But how much attention were you really able to give to each of those tasks? There’s a good chance that, while you were focused on the emails, you were only half paying attention to one of your phone conversations…and you ended up making a promise without even realizing it.
Or, when you were focused on a phone conversation, maybe you misunderstood something in one of the emails, and ended up sending a reply that caused all kinds of complications. Complications you could’ve avoided if you’d just focused on answering emails.
The Science of Multi-Tasking
Some people are determined to learn how to multi-task. Just imagine all the stuff they’d be able to get done. If you can respond to emails and make phone calls at the same time, that means you’ll have more free time later, right? And filling out tax forms will be much more fun if you’re chatting on Twitter at the same time.
But, according to research, while you can seemingly do two things at the same time, you won’t do either of them all that well. So if you’re trading tweets while doing your taxes, you’re more likely to make mistakes on the latter…which is the last thing you want.
How Multi-Tasking “Works”
Your brain can’t do two things at the same time. Instead, when you try to multi-task, your brain switches its focus back and forth between one task and the other. The result is that you won’t have time to really focus on doing either task as well as you could.
Also, when you switch tasks, it takes a moment for your brain to reorient itself. So every time you switch from working on a report to answering emails, your brain needs a few minutes to switch from “report writing” mode to “email responding” mode. And the same happens when you switch back again.
So, when you try to do two things at the same time, each task will end up taking longer than if you’d done them separately.
What to Do Instead of Multi-Tasking
It’s ironic. Many people try to multi-task in order to save time. But multi-tasking actually takes longer. It can also hurt how well you do those tasks, and increase your chances of making mistakes.
Instead of trying to learn to multi-task, you should embrace single-tasking. When you focus on doing one thing at a time, even for just 10 to 15 minutes, the task will take less time to do in the long run. You’ll also be able to do better on the task if it’s the center of your attention.
And when you’re filling out taxes, or putting together a presentation for work, doing your best should be your top priority.
The next time you find yourself trying to multi-task, try single-tasking instead. You will be surprised by the results.