Applying the advice of this post’s headline, I mean.
So, for the next few minutes, just focus on reading this post. Remove all distractions and make sure nobody and nothing will disturb you during the time you’ll be reading it.
You can even plan some additional “buffer” time for contemplating on it.
At the end, go ahead and evaluate yourself.
Be honest and strict with her/him. At the same time, see this also as a game.
How did you do? How many times did an external or internal factor distract you?
Did you interrupt your reading at some point? How many times and for how long?
Did you actually finish reading it?
Don’t be disappointed if you indeed failed to do so in one go.
Or if you weren’t fully committed and concentrated in the process.
Just take note and promise to yourself that next time you’ll do better!
Multitasking Is Bad For You
Let me first briefly recall that this is one of the follow-up posts to this earlier mega-post of mine (which has, in the meantime, also spurred this, this and this post).
Now, before we proceed further, I think it’s helpful that I provide my definition of “multitasking”.
So, contrary to its standard definition, I propose that “multitasking is the inability to perform more than one task or activity at the same time”.
The emphasis is, obviously, on the usage of word “inability”, instead of “ability”.
And I think that my definition is, in fact, technically accurate.
When one examines things really closely, one can confirm that it’s impossible for any human being to perform more than one thing at the same instance.
You can easily validate this yourself, right now. Just try to do two tasks at the same time, while maintaining absolute concentration on both.
For example, try to read a news item on Internet, while at the same time (at the very same time) writing a small summary of it…
It’s just not feasible, right?
This already provides a strong indication that there’s something really wrong about the concept of multitasking.
Okay, granted, my example may be a bit exaggerated.
Perhaps, it’s more pragmatic if we consider multitasking to be the quick and non-sequential transition among different activities, within a given amount of time.
This is probably closer to the notion of multitasking as perceived by most people.
And that’s exactly the kind of multitasking that, as tons of scientific studies warn us, is deeply harmful for us.
For instance, have a look at this condensed article by Forbes.
You’ll see that it links multitasking to a number of severe drawbacks on people who practice it, such as:
- Worse performance
- Reduced efficiency (as, again, human brain can focus on only one thing at a time)
- Lowering of IQ (!)
- Brain damage [reduced cognitive and emotional capability (i.e. lower empathy) and possible adverse physical (neurological) impact]
- Diminished concentration and organizational capacity, as well as attention to detail
What About The Things My Teachers, Bosses And Society Have Been Telling Me All Along?
You mean things like: “the ability to multitask is what will set you apart in life”?
Well… they were, and are, wrong.
A word of caution here: oftentimes people confuse multitasking with versatility.
The latter is the ability to engage with more than one and frequently quite different things in life (but NOT at the same time) and be good at them.
This is a quality that is, in principle, very desirable. And for a very good reason, obviously.
It’s true that rather few people have this capacity. Especially as the number of different things or areas of engagement gets higher.
But even if you are such a versatile person, the worst thing you can do is multitask. Simply because, this is how your versatility goes to waste.
So, let me emphasize once again: multitasking is one of the surest recipes for low performance, dejection, and burnout. Its prolonged practicing is, in essence, a highly self-destructive activity.
Is there a solution, then?
Of course there is!
Do One Thing At A Time And Give It Your Complete Attention
Then, once you’re done or cannot progress any further with it, pick up the next thing and apply the exact same process.
Easy to understand?
I believe so.
Easy to implement?
Not at all.
Especially in today’s world.
(This being said, I firmly believe that the current Coronavirus pandemic, which is forcing an unprecedented degree of isolation for most of us, truly provides “fertile soil” for cultivating your single-tasking capabilities).
So, here are a few tips to help you make the transition from a hectic and “all over the place” multitasking lifestyle to a laser-focused, single-tasking one.
1. Remove all possible distractions when dealing with a task.
I covered this in the beginning of the post. It’s what I proposed you do when reading the present post (how’s this been going for you, by the way, thus far?).
In this case, the biggest difficulty you will face is your belief (methodically conditioned by multiple external factors) that you “must stay connected”.
Here’s a truth: when you try to stay connected with everything at the same time, you end up being connected with nothing at all.
Most importantly, this disconnectedness includes your very self.
You can start following this advice in baby steps.
I’m sure you can afford focusing at least 15 consecutive minutes on one task, at some point throughout your day, no matter how busy you are.
To ensure you really get this 15-minute single-tasking session, go ahead and make it easier for yourself.
Silence your cell phone and you leave it in another room.
Convince yourself you will survive without checking your social media feed during this time.
Take as many deep breaths as you need to quiet down your bustling mind.
And then you’re ready to properly do whatever it is you’ve chosen to do.
With focus and without interruption.
2. Follow the flow; you don’t have to always do things in the same sequence
This practically means you don’t always need to start from the beginning and finish at the end.
Sounds confusing? It’s not, really…
Let’s assume the task you’ve chosen to exclusively focus on for the next 15-20 minutes is writing an e-mail.
To complete this, you shouldn’t feel obliged to follow a particular sequence. E.g. to start with the salutation, then move on to the introduction, continue with elaborating on the main subject, and finish with the conclusion.
Just allow it to flow out of you, as naturally as possible.
You want to start with the conclusion? Perfectly fine!
You want to write your text in the very sequence in which the reader is likely to read it? Also fine!
You want to begin by a few telegraphic bullet points, capturing the gist of the topic, and afterwards structure and polish your text? This can work as well!
The point is: limit yourself in what you’ll do for a while, but don’t constrain her/him in HOW you’ll do it!
Once you get ahold of this process, you may also discover a big truth:
You can experience true freedom and individuality in your life not so much in what you do, but in how you do it.
It’s pretty intuitive, come to think of it.
There are so many things one can choose to do in one’s life.
But there are infinite different ways of how to go about doing them. These ways are absolutely unique for every human being.
And that’s where the room for true originality and genius in life is truly boundless.
3. Treat everything you do as if it were the single most important thing in the world
Because, guess what, it actually is! It certainly is for the present moment.
So simple, right? Self-evidently simple!
What can be more important than the thing you’re doing RIGHT NOW?
And it’s everywhere and always “here and now o’clock”, isn’t it?
At the same time:
4. Treat everything you do as playfully and lightly as possible
Here we come face to face with another of life’s paradoxes.
How on earth can you focus on something as it if were the most important thing in the world and simultaneously deal with it in an as playful a manner as possible?
Not only you can, but it’s highly recommended you adopt this stance.
It’s exactly the way young children approach anything they do.
It’s also the way of living that’s been advocated and exemplified by all the great spiritual masters.
See, by treating anything you do seriously, you assign to it the respect it deserves as being an aspect of the underlying unity of everything. An underlying unity that, in the last 50 years (finally…), hard-core science has even started to embrace (see here a very characteristic example).
On the other hand, by treating what you do playfully, you also accept that, like all form manifestations, it’s something temporary and fleeting.
Like the flicker of a candle flame.
It’ll be gone before you know it.
So it doesn’t make sense you cling onto it, right?
Playfulness is the perfect antidote to desperate attachment.
5. Do everything you do for the sake of doing it, not to get something out of it
This boils down to something extremely practical.
If you do something only thinking about what you will get out of it or what comes next, you can never devote to it the attention and care it requires to be delivered as good as possible.
If this is the case, it follows that both your efficiency and effectiveness remain suboptimal.
It helps if you think if it in the following way:
The purpose of learning a skill is to learn a skill.
The objective of carrying out a chore is to do the chore.
The goal of playing a game is to play a game.
And nobody’s bigger than the game, everyone knows that.
6. Stay rooted in the present moment
What only matters is what you do now.
Not what you did a second before.
Not what you’ll do a second after.
Until after becomes now, allow it (and yourself) to rest and not worry about it.
As for before, it’s already long gone…
Again, it’s everywhere and always “here and now o’clock”.
Moving away from multitasking to focused and sequential single-tasking is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow upon yourself.
In fact, this is a deep and authentic spiritual practice. In the sense that it can (and should) be performed, ideally, every waking minute of your every waking hour.
It may not be the quickest, but it’s certainly one of the most ideal ways to bringing you face to face with the most important question of your life:
Discovering and realizing who you truly are.
Until next time,
Be safe and remain alert.
2 thoughts on “Do One Thing At A Time: How To Avoid The Trap Of Multitasking”
Thanks so much for sharing Alexandros :), great reading, if we can only give everything we do our 100 percent attention, a lot can be achieved with near perfection . But we also have to acknowledge some multitasking can be really beneficial to us; for example I was listening to some slow music while reading this post and it felt really good, I wasn’t distracted,; I actually love to cook while listening to music and having a glass of wine sometimes :), to me all these actually go together fine and good. It all depends on what tasks you are involved in, some tasks can complement each other real good, for example listening to music while in the gym. Thanks.
Right on, Alex!