Multitasking is common. All day, every day. We listen to podcasts while riding the train or driving. We do dishes while also cooking in the kitchen. We use the toilet while brushing our teeth. We plan coffee and lunch meetings for business. I literally see 3 people in front of me right now at Starbucks each using a phone and a laptop at the same time.
I know I am not the only person who creates those impossible to-do lists. We Americans are achievers. I actually have 3 levels of to-do lists…
- Broad Level is a running list of all the things I think about doing, that are important to do at some point. Like “redesign website” or “research CRM systems.”
- Close Level is more of a weekly list, what I need to do this week. Like “order promo bags” or “call Sally.”
- Immediate Level is what I want to accomplish today, the must-do or else! Like “attend board meeting” or “prep for client session at 2:00.”
As you may be guessing, or cringing in horror, it’s kind of complicated. But the point is, we balance multiple activities at once to attempt to get it all done. We basically build multitasking into our goal setting and accomplishment measures. We are trying to be efficient.
The Multitasking Problem
Per recent information… The brain does not “multitask.” The brain does not do 2 things at once. It actually switches back and forth between those tasks. Yet, the brain does get very good at switching quickly. The mental synapses are trained to go fast. So we believe we are multitasking. Issue then… The brain does not rest. It is instead taxed overtime.
Per other recent information… When a person changes tasks – like at work going from project A to project B – on average, the brain takes 7 minutes to fully adjust. I’ve heard it takes you as much as 20 minutes to be ready / engaged / functioning highly / smooth / dominating. Begs the question… If we are constantly changing gears throughout the day, how much time are we losing in the transition? If my daily to-do list has 10 items on it, that would mean I am losing at least 70 minutes “in between” and not working at max potential.
When thinking about this routine requirement of multitasking, I realize how spread thin we all are. We cannot be focused on quality by stacking our schedules so high. We’re losing productive time with all the juggling. Then, we’re not very good at being present in the moment. We are always thinking about the next thing, churning and burning, go go go. So no project or endeavor can get 100% of our attention. We cannot be great because each thing is only getting a low percentage of devoted time.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I explore changes you can implement to address The Multitasking Problem.