Two days ago I was in traffic at a red light and in the car next two me the most strange thing was happening. The father was in the driver’s seat, alternating between talking to the mom, clicking through his phone and searching for something in the console. The mother was talking on the phone, with her husband and somehow playing with the child in the back seat at the same time, also checking her appearance in the mirror among all that. The kid was trying to get mom’s attention while throwing a tantrum because mom wasn’t really playing with him and also having some sort of game playing on a tablet.
The question I asked myself was: how natural was this scenario for them? All three were doing more than two activities at the same time. If someone came up to you on the street and asked you “hey, how would you feel about doing three things at once for no apparent reason” you’d look at them like they were crazy. Who would want do to that? Well, apparently, all of us.
Multitasking – screwing up several things at once. – Unknown
I used to be a huge fan of multitasking up until I read in a book, a few years ago, about how changing from one task to another in rapid succession is harmful for your brain, because it disrupts the logical flow of thought. The time it takes for your brain to re-wire itself back to a task causes 3 times more stress (at a neuron level) and a 45% increase in difficulty for your brain to form an action plan, not to mention extra time to adjust to the new task.
The scarcity of time is the reason we have to concentrate one thing at a time. – Matt Perman
We’re so concerned with getting a lot of things done in a short amount of time that we jump at any opportunity to be “efficient”. While we feel productive in the moment, because we are always busy, it actually takes us more time to complete those tasks and we are more tired than we could have been by sticking to one at a time. Chances are, the reason you are feeling so tired after a day of work is because you’ve worked your brain into exhaustion. There is no cure for this except for stopping yourself from falling into the deadly trap of multitasking.
Do you go from reading your e-mail to calling someone, back to e-mail, read 2 articles, clean something on your desk and e-mail again? Why do you think it’s so difficult to study for an exam if you keep changing between reading the materials, checking your phone and playing a game? Chances are you don’t get much done at the end of the day.
As a consequence, this post’s challenge is to take some time to notice your habits. Do you feel like you are always rushing, you have a lot of stuff to do? If you feel like you are always busy but don’t feel like you are making any progress, try stopping yourself from getting distracted and changing tasks. I promise you, it will work wonders. All you have to do is focus.
P.S. For some more information on this and loads of other interesting insights in how the brain works, I really recommend The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin.
Have a eudemonic week!