Do you know that we spend over 45% of our waking hours thinking about multiple tasks at once?
I was a proud Badge carrying member of the “Multitasking Army”. While it seems a great way to get a lot done within a short time, and many of us, especially women have made it a career doing exactly that, there is research suggesting that Multitasking can decrease productivity by as much as 40%.
Are you a Multitasker?
Can you take a moment and just notice all the things that you are doing right now? If you are reading this article and texting your friend at the same time, it may not cause you any problems. However, if you are driving and talking on your phone at the same time, it could be a matter of life or death for you or someone else.
I believed that I was very efficient in Multitasking and got a lot of my work done a lot faster. But then, I started noticing a pattern in me, and that was, I kept forgetting what I had said a few minutes earlier. For instance, I would be going over some necessary paperwork, taking some staffing decisions at the same time. When I was reminded of something I had said about a staffing decision, I could not recall it. I started making a note of why I kept forgetting some things. I realized that it was because I had been Multitasking, and though the work would get done, my concentration was only on the most critical task that I was doing.
There is no such thing as Multitasking
In fact, “We don’t multitask. We switch tasks. The word ‘Multitasking’ implies that you can do two or more things at once. Still, in reality, our brains only allow us to do one thing at a time, and we have to switch back and forth,” says Anthony Wagner, professor of psychology at Stanford University in the US.
Research on Executive functions of Brain
According to researchers, Meyer, Evans and Rubinstein, there are two stages to how our brain manages the tasking.
1. The first stage is the “goal shifting” (deciding to do one thing instead of the other)
2. The second is the “role activation”(changing from the rules of the previous task to rules for the new job)
When people switch between tasks repeatedly, it can cause mental blocks. We are allowing the focus to shift, losing a few seconds when we switch between tasks. Even though it seems that very little time is wasted, in reality, a heavy multitasker may be losing minutes, if not hours when he or she is continually shifting between more than 3 or 4 tasks at a time.
According to University of Michigan researchers, when we multitask, in addition to losing time, we become prone to distraction, forgetfulness and errors.
What’s the Solution?
Being a chronic heavy multitasker, I knew that I had to break this habit fast. But I was clueless about how to do it. Because you see, I knew only to multitask and did not know any other way.
Then, something slowly started changing. I started noticing a shift in me. I now seemed to be focusing on one single thing to do, completing it and then moving on to another task. My memory of what I was saying and doing was getting better. As is my nature, I wanted to explore what contributed to this shift.
The Power of “One Thing”!
I traced back the origins of the shift in me of completing one task and moving on to the next. It began during the NLP Coach Program that I underwent and our Coach, Ashlesh Rao, asking us to focus on the ‘One thing’ we did well, the ‘One thing’ we did differently and the ‘One thing’ we learnt. My brain now did not have to worry about coming up with many answers; it just had to come up with the ‘One thing’. That was the game-changer.
In the book, ‘The One Thing: the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, and they talk about going small. When you go as small as possible, you’ll be staring at one thing. It is also recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most and getting it done.
Can you just imagine that you had only one thing to do today, what would that be? Every day I write my single most important outcome or my single most important activity for the day. My task is so simple; I have to do just one thing! After I do that one thing, I can move on to the next ‘one thing’. So, what do I do? When I wake up and think of doing just one crucial thing for the day, my brain finds it more comfortable to focus, and I am at it and get it completed.
Today, I had a conversation with one of my younger colleagues, and she was amazed at the kind of things that I was accomplishing in a short time and asked me how I was doing it. This article is an answer to that question.
I cannot stress enough on the change that has happened within me and my life because my Coach did not tell but allowed me to discover the secret of the ‘One Thing’. I hope I have answered her and many readers who are wondering how to get more done in less time without making things complicated. It is so simple. Just do the ‘ONE THING’.