Why Multitasking Is A Myth + What To Do Instead
I shared in my recent 10-Minute Tune-Up on multitasking (you can watch below) that I often find myself trying to multitask when I sit down to do a seemingly menial task. I open up my computer and, at the same time, throw on a podcast on my phone. I try to write a simple email, or arrange a spreadsheet, all while trying to listen to people talking in my ears.
As I write my email, my brain is not absorbing what’s being said in the podcast. Minutes, or even tens of minutes go by when I finally realize… what the heck are these people even talking about? I’ve missed so much of the conversation by attempting to multitask that the story makes no sense.
Now, I think you know how this story goes. I rewind the podcast to the last part that I can remember, press play again and bam. Right back into the vicious cycle.
On an intellectual level I know this is not a path towards productivity. I know I will end up doing both things poorly. Yet, I continue to attempt this type of multitasking. Is something wrong with my brain?!
After hearing similar stories from my students, clients, and friends, I am less worried about the state of my own brain, and more convinced that this is a human brain issue..
What I've come to realize is that multitasking as we know it - doing two or more things at the same time- is not possible. What is actually happening is that we are task switching. My brain will be listening to a sentence or two of the podcast, then switch to typing words in an email, then switch back to the podcast, and on and on. The switching takes merely seconds, so it seems like we are doing two things at once. The gap is so small that we don’t detect it, unless we start to pay attention.
Every time there is a task switch, your brain takes the attention off of item A and dives into item B. So the podcast is still running, but I am no longer actually paying attention to it. I can’t.
Ah, paying attention. AKA mindfulness. So simple. Yet, so hard to implement in our daily lives. That's where we come in.
Check out our latest 10-Minute Tune-Up below. I'll guide you through a quick movement and meditation class geared towards getting you to observe when you're attempting to multitask, and how to use mindfulness to stay on track.
This week, try pausing throughout your day to notice if you're trying to do too many things at one time. This could mean you're physically doing too much, for example cooking while talking on the phone. Or, it could mean doing something while also thinking about something else. Observe whether this multitasking attempt is helpful or harmful. Maybe you do need to chat with someone while you're cooking dinner. Or maybe you'd benefit from separating those two tasks and giving your full attention to each one in time.
The beauty of mindfulness is that YOU get to decide what's good for YOU. I'm not here to tell you to stop doing something that brings you joy. I'm asking you to take a moment every once in a while to observe your habits and decide for yourself if you want to keep them or make a subtle change.
We've created our online program, Unfold Digital, to support you in your steps towards leading a more mindful life. You can subscribe to receive our FREE 10-Minute Tune-Up classes, weekly in your inbox. These classes are quick office-friendly chair yoga and meditation breaks to get you moving, breathing, and de-stressed - no change of clothing or equipment needed.
I believe through mindfulness that small changes over time can make a big impact on your life. But hey, I'm not telling you what to do. Give it a try and let me know if it works out well for you!
Nicole Elipas Doherty
Co-Founder + CEO