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  • Dr. Patrick E. Crawford

Multitasking

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #88
 

Ok, all of the multitaskers, this article is for you. There is no such thing as the ability to multitask!

I know; I’ve been guilty of pretending to be able to do more than one thing at a time. There have been times when I tried to convince myself that I could converse with my wife, Sharon, and check my emails simultaneously. I confess to checking emails during meetings or attempting to listen to the news while writing an article for the PLDC newsletter. I am working on breaking the multitask habit! Still not convinced. If you want to be more productive, build stronger relationships and generally be more polite, read the following and begin breaking the multitasking habit.



Single-tasking: The Power of Focusing on One Task at a Time

Dr. Hannah Rose | Ness Labs


Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell says multitasking is a myth. To believe that you can perform two or more tasks as effectively as one is not valid. Until the1960s, the term multitasking did not exist, and even then, it was meant to explain computers performing more than one function at a time. Although it may be possible to open, read and respond to an email while listening to a presentation, it is an illusion. Instead of performing these functions in parallel, you are doing them in series. You may stop listening to give your attention to an email, but you are not doing both at the same time.


Canadian author Michael Harris stated: “When we think we’re multitasking, we’re actually multi-switching.” The research of Kevin Madore and Anthony Wagner supports Harris and Hallowell’s premise. Madore and Wagner found that “the human mind and brain lack the architecture to perform two or more tasks simultaneously.” Further research supports that not only are we bad at multitasking we don’t want to believe it, which leads to an over-inflated belief in our ability to do so.


Some researchers distinguish the difference between micro-multitasking and macro-multitasking. Micro-multitasking is when you are performing multiple tasks within a similar discipline. An example of micro-multitasking is while writing this article; I stop writing to search for additional information or talk with a colleague about the topic. But again, they are done in a series, not parallel.


Macro-multitasking occurs when multiple tasks span several disciplines. An example is while at a meeting, answering emails, reading an article, and listening to the speaker. These tasks are being addressed in a series and could be completed more effectively by single-tasking.


In her article, Single-tasking: The Power of Focusing on One Task at a Time, Dr. Rose proposes a single-tasking approach that will increase productivity and creativity and allow you to complete a task in a shorter period. Sound simple, focus on one thing at a time, but it must become a relearned habit for many people. She recommends the following strategies to help implement single-tasking.


  1. Design a distraction-free environment. For example, if you are working on writing an article, put your phone away, turn off email notifications and close all tabs and browsers not relevant to the task.

  2. Use the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique recommends taking a 5-minute break after working for 25 minutes. Give complete attention to the single task for 25 minutes and return directly to the job after the 5-minute interval.

  3. Take regular breaks. In addition to the 5-minute Pomodoro break, take additional time to refresh and recharge when necessary. The intent is to move away from the task and do something different before returning.

Breaking the habit of multitasking is difficult because we often don’t realize we are doing it. In the hyper-connected world, we depend on always being accessible and connected. Some of us remember the days landlines were the dominant means of communication. In those days, taking a phone call, checking emails, or searching for a new pair of shoes while attending a meeting, conference, or professional development program was impossible.


The next time you participate in a gathering of more than two people, look around the room. Do you see people on their laptops and phones instead of listening? Or the next time you are speaking to someone, and they are looking at their phone instead of you, consider – do you want to be one of those people?


 

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