My Multitasking Mistake
On a recent work task, I completed what I thought fell precisely in line with my directives. Instead, what I thought I needed to do was completely wrong. Not even close, actually. The mistake devastated me and threatened to send me into a dark, self-deprecating pit.
After the emotions wore off and I quit trying to blame someone else, I thought about my mistake and what led to it. Essentially, I performed a mental root cause analysis. I first tried to credit the error to the general excuse of miscommunication but realized that just lets everyone involved off the hook and doesn’t help much. So, in all honesty, I admitted that the cause of the mistake fell solely on myself, more specifically, on my attempt to multitask.
Instead of putting my full attention into a planning meeting, I got distracted by other tasks. The worst part? Well, there are two worst parts, actually. First, I wrote down the correct task needing completed. I just didn’t look at my notes because I failed to even remember I took them. Second, I thought this type of mistake existed only as a habit broken long ago. Clearly not.
The mistake serves as a reminder about the importance of maintaining focus, which impacts reality in significant ways.
Focus Determines Reality
Not only does what you focus on determine the direction you take, but how many tasks you focus on does too. Focusing on multiple tasks at once divides and weakens your attention and productivity. It diminishes the quality of your efforts and slows overall progress.
Multitasking — originally a computer term — is technically impossible for humans. Our brains actually task flip, but it happens so quickly we can’t tell the difference. Computers can process several tasks at once. Humans cannot. Instead, as Jon Hamilton on NPR Morning Addition explains:
“Even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain if we try to do them all at once.”
“We frequently overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks.”
I thought I’d beaten this bad habit of multitasking that contributed to my overwhelm and overload so many years ago and created the mediocre quality that eventually crept into every area of my life. While it didn’t fully return, my backslide reminded me of habits I needed to refresh and reestablish if I am to maintain a right focus that in turn establishes the reality I desire for my life.
The Mental Impact
In Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D. calls multitasking toxic because it drains the brain, zaps cognitive resources, and promotes early mental decline. Multitasking also decreases sharpness and increases cortisol, which can damage the memory center of the brain.
Those are just the long-term consequences. In the short term, multitasking overloads the brain, makes you less efficient, keeps thoughts at surface level and causes mistakes to occur more frequently.
Multitasking results in a 40% productivity loss.
Multitaskers make up to 50% more errors.
Drivers talking on cell phones can miss seeing up to 50% of their driving environment, including pedestrians and red lights.
Before experiencing the difference between a life filled with multitasking and one more oriented toward single-tasking, I did not buy into the truth about multitasking. Now, I realize the truth in how it consumes a person’s mental resources to the point of almost complete ineffectiveness. I also understand the importance of learning to single task again.