Why Multitasking Is Complete Bulls**t & What to Do Instead
We're all strapped for time in this world.
Whether it be our career, our family life, or certain extracurriculars there always seems to be several things vying for a chunk of our most precious resource.
In an attempt to help combat that, most of us turn to multitasking, which by definition is dealing with more than one task at the same time. On the surface, multitasking seems great. Why not try to proverbially "kill two birds with one stone" if you're finding it hard to accomplish everything that needs to be done?
But as someone who once considered myself an incredibly proficient "multitasker", I now have confidently come to the conclusion that multitasking is complete bullshit.
What It Requires That We All Suck At (But That's Okay)
Effective multitasking requires you to be unconsciously competent (a term I first came across through the work of Kevin Trudeau) at each of the tasks that you are combining. As the terminology suggests, unconscious competence means that you are so proficient and familiar with completing a task that you are able to do it well with little to no conscious attention being given to it.
A common example of something that many of us are close to unconsciously competent at is driving, thanks to not only the thousands of hours of experience we've accumulated with it, but also because of how regularly we practice it.
But even driving I have a hard time believing that many of us are truly unconsciously competent at. We may be able to get ourselves to and from work daily with little attention being given to every turn or stop we make, but how many accidents are caused daily by our carelessness or attempt to multitask while driving? Something that is largely triggered by our mind's assumption that it did not need to be fully present with the act of driving -which if it was, the accident would have likely not occurred.
True unconscious competence is hard to come by in this world, so the chances of us being able to find two tasks on our to do list that we are unconsciously competent at is slim to none.
What We're Actually Doing When We Multitask
What we are actually doing when we do multitask, is something that in my opinion Neil Pasricha explained best in The Happiness Equation, a book that I highly recommend. In the book, Neil explains that rather than actually accomplishing two things at once, when we multitask we instead just repeatedly shift our attention from one task to another selling ourselves on the illusion that we are being efficient.
Think of how many times you "multitasked" by combining a phone call with doing the laundry. Did you actually spend the majority of that time effectively listening, replying, and cleaning? Or did you instead find yourself not paying attention to what was being said by your friend most of the time, only to kick in when something caught your attention, at which point you likely also stopped folding that garment in intrigue.
We think we are multitasking, but what we are actually doing is repeatedly shifting between two tasks that we are completing inefficiently.
How To Actually Make The Most Of Your Time
Rather than attempting to accomplish several things at once, I believe the true key to giving ourselves more time is to give all of our attention and focus to one task at a time. This entails not only avoiding multitasking, but also putting away all of the potential distractions we are regularly bombarded with (most notably our phones) when working on something.
Continuing with the same example from above, we all know that we are a better communicator when we give our undivided attention to the person we are talking to, and we all know we can do our laundry much quicker when focused on just doing our laundry.
We are all incredibly intelligent individuals with a powerful brain capable of accomplishing so much in this world. Unleash its true power daily by seeing just how effectively it can do whatever you set out to complete with no interference.