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The Art of Multitasking and Why We Can’t Give It Up

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This term should sound familiar to anyone today. The prefix multi means more than one thing. Indeed, when speaking of multitasking, it’s hard to imagine an idyllic vision of a person practicing meditation. There are haters and lovers of multitasking.
woman sit on desk with flying papers around

Just let me ask you one question: have you ever multitasked? Be honest.

I’m working from home, answering clients waiting on the line. But in the meantime, I’m waiting for my document to open. How about checking some mails waiting on my checkbox list? Oh wait, there is another message waiting to be answered - I will do it now, and by the way, such a nice song on the radio.

Several irons in the fire

Let’s face it – we are compulsive multitaskers, we chase deadlines, continuously thinking about upcoming new tasks and what awaits us in the distant future.

The stream of our thoughts becomes our enemy while working on tasks yet to be finished but called to a halt due to other upcoming, and apparently more important, duties.

woman reading a book and eating noodles
The Art of Multitasking and Why We Can’t Give It Up

Are there any good sides to multitasking?

Certainly! The art of learning how to work faster comes as a gift. Apart from that, we train our brain to adapt to different working environments so we can do more difficult tasks in the future. Doing a couple of things at the same time shows us how to manage our time better and makes us realise how we work under pressure. Anyway, what we really need to ask ourselves is what we are really striving for. The reality is that multitasking is not for everyone.

Everywhere and nowhere = chaos

By having the intention of doing one thing, we are abruptly getting ideas of doing another bunch of things. Our phones start vibrating, our laptops display new notifications. The truth is that we need to treat multitasking as any other habit. And still, we can change it. When we deal with problems of concentration, we shouldn’t bury our head in the sand - it’s better to find methods that are proven to work. Let’s investigate some of them below:

man next to window with laptop and headphones
credit: Simon Abrams

How can we cope with that urgent desire of multitasking?

Do one thing after another (however hard it sounds)

After some time, it occurs to you that you’ve started many tasks but none of them were accomplished. The level of frustration grows and the pile of planned things is not getting any smaller. In order to fight it, analyse how you go through your task. A good practice would be devoting 15-20 minutes only to one task, and then taking 5 minutes of break. It’s the so-called Pomodoro technique - one of many time management methods. Even when you are not able to do so, as your mobile or other device is calling you, try 10 minutes instead of 20, and practice it.

Change the way you perceive your duties

First things first, do not think about the effect of your work so much in advance. From the perspective of time, it may seem horrendous what you are aiming for in one, two, or five years. It makes us see the daily tasks as not crucial when compared to our future goals that are obviously so big. It’s not the effect but the process which is important here.. “Today between 8:00 and 8:20 I will write a part of my essay” – let it motivate you, let it become your effect.

Define your main distractors

Just before you plan to do something, think about the main reasons for your multitasking and non-effectiveness. Are these noises, people, devices? Write it down on a sheet of paper and ponder about a possible solution – there has to be at least one. Imagine how you would react; how would you prevent from checking that WhatsApp message again before finishing something more important. We act out of habit, the phone calls, so of course, I have to pick it. Otherwise…what? The world is not going to end if you aren’t active on social media for an hour. By creating possible scenarios of your reactions, you will be able to avoid making mistakes again.

Establish a convenient space

We don’t always have power over certain external conditions that influence the way we work. However, there are factors that we DO have control on. Muting notifications, switching off your phone for a while – create a space that maximises your effectiveness and possibilities. If you know that you cannot focus while your Wi-Fi is working, switch it off. There are certain applications on computers and phones that block access to any other things except the one you choose to work on (e.g. writing an article in a text editor). You can even have a piece of paper next to you and note there all the thoughts that come to you in the meantime – to calm yourself down, in case you forget to run any other errands.

taking notes from above
credit: William Iven

Note to myself and all multitaskers over the world: learn to implement small changes. And the real result is going to be big. Life is busy, but we don’t always have to obey.