This article was originally published here on Forbes.com.
The Shocking Truth About Multitasking In The Age Of Distraction
Most of us, especially us Type A’s, like to think we’re great multitaskers. We check our email and text messages while listening in on a Zoom meeting, working on a spreadsheet, and scrolling Twitter or a news site. In this age of distraction, multitasking seems like a useful superpower to have. Unfortunately, it isn’t even real.
That’s right. Multitasking is a myth.
What we’re really doing when we multitask is switching back and forth between two or more objects of our attention—we’re task switching. Often, there’s little rhyme or reason for the switching. That’s especially the case when we let little distractions and ongoing worries interrupt our focus.
When we’re task switching, we aren’t fully engaged in anything.
Task switching can take a significant toll. You may be surprised to learn that toggling back and forth between tasks—even just taking thirty seconds to send a text—slows down and can even derail your mental ability for up to a full half hour afterward!
We don’t just lose time and productivity from task switching; we also become more forgetful, dumber, and, yep, more stressed out. Task switching can challenge our emotional wellbeing and mental health, as well as our physical safety and the safety of others—our patients, our passengers, our colleagues, and teammates.
If you’re feeling busier than ever but getting nothing done, it’s time to identify your priorities, and focus on your Span of Control.
The number one thing you can change? Take the time to address the most important work you should be focusing on. Commit to addressing one thing at a time. Do this enough, and you’ll start to see an increase in your capacity for careful analysis and creative problem-solving—just from re-training your brain to stay focused.
If you’re not focusing on the one thing that matters most right now—in other words, if you’re not actively determining and then prioritizing what is most important—you’re working against your own precious cognitive energies and diluting your power.
If you already know what matters most right now but find yourself struggling to get and stay focused on it, practice actively saying “no” to distractions. Take control of your devices by turning off notifications, closing your email, and putting your phone aside. Take control of your availability by letting others know you won’t be immediately responsive to emails and texts during a certain time period. Focusing on one thing at a time is just as much about saying “yes” to the most important thing, as it is about saying “no” to whatever else competes for your attention.
I can promise you that once you identify what’s under your Span of Control, minimize task switching, and start concentrating on what matters most, you’ll not only do better work, but you’ll also be more engaged overall. You’ll be a more present and active participant in whatever you’re doing, whether that’s attending a board meeting, writing a new business plan, or really watching little Tommy’s soccer game.