Twenty thousand productivity articles under the sea all offer the same advice: don’t multitask.
It’s ineffective, it wastes time, it puts bags under your eyes, it burns you, and only a first edition Charizard can really kill it for good. “Multitasking is bad” they said.
But what if keeping tabs on multiple tasks is literally yours? job? Call me a catastrophist, but I don’t like the idea of ââan air traffic controller following only one plane for four hours straight. My home airport is LAX; I don’t even want them to develop tunnel vision for more than four seconds. Some careers inherently require multitasking, and the claim that multitasking is an invalid sin of entire swathes of leadership and management senses.
I’m generally a productivity fangirl; Cal Newport is my religion, and I like the idea of ââsingular tasks. But the fantasy stops there. Locking myself in a room and annihilating my to-do list sounds like happiness, but as a business owner and human adult this degree of freedom is unrealistic most of the time. Work and family responsibilities can make the unitary task a challenge, so you need to stop jamming a square peg in a round hole and take a different approach.
Successful professionals are multitasking, and demanding careers require juggling many different balls simultaneously by design. Instead of banning the m-word altogether, consider a reminder of how multitasking actually works and what you can start doing today to improve yourself.
This is your brain on tasks
Before we move on to actionable tactics, let’s first align ourselves with the neurosciences that underpin multitasking. It has been 20 years since the very popular article Executive control of cognitive processes in task switching made us realize that multitasking was bad. Your brain can only make one decision at a time; you have become so good at moving from one project to another over the years that it feels like multitasking.
Although your brain has limits, it is a pusher. When faced with a difficult task, your brain will recruit energy away from other areas of the body to maximize focus. This is why you sometimes find yourself disconnected from nearby sights or sounds during times of deep concentration.
This is where it gets complicated : Research found that the people who multitask most often or try to multitask the most are often the less effective at that. Moreover, these chronic multitasking overestimate the amount of work they can accomplish in a given time period. It’s almost like a task-specific iteration of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the least skilled or the least knowledgeable people think they are the best. When it comes to multitasking, practice doesn’t make you perfect; perfect it is practice makes perfect.
Redefining concentration in a hybrid work landscape
I hereby give you permission to multitask. But let’s also make sure that the fakes you juggle really do move projects forward. Here are some proven tweaks that could make all the difference.
Group similar tasks together: It is . . . no news. But it’s good to remember that different types of tasks are handled by different parts of your brain, and it’s the switching between different cranial departments that tires you out, not the tasks themselves. Grouping tasks of a similar nature together will reduce the number of distractions your brain has to endure in any given day.
Configure your focal point: My problem with the Eisenhower matrix is that it still requires a lot of thought. What’s important versus not important, anyway? I need a more Neanderthal approach to doing shit.
Brian Tracy’s Focal point always has my favorite prioritization prompt. It goes like this: “If in an hour you suddenly had to step away from your desk for a month.” . . what task would you do first? “ This is the number one task. Then, like magic, give yourself another time and figure out task number two, number three, and so on. Prioritization burns calories, and not in a good way; define the sequence with as little willpower as possible to preserve attention.
In fact, limit social media and other distractions as you keep saying you’re going: Real discussions, if you have a hundred tasks on your plate at work every day. . . is on Twitter for three hours every night to relax Actually decompress? Maybe it’s time to turn on screen time limits and take control of your sanity. (Or delete it altogether…. I’m a writer who doesn’t have Twitter in case you’re tempted to give him the ax. Come here on the dark side with me: it’s quiet, and the cocktails are great. .)
General productivity tips rarely work for everyone and under all circumstances. But we all want to achieve our goals and free up time to lead healthy, happy lives. Find the winning pace that serves you best, and your unwavering routine will help you soar.
Nick wolny is a former classically trained musician and current online marketing strategist for small business owners, experts and entrepreneurs.