You’ve slept past your alarm for the second time this week. After waking your kids up, you rush to the kitchen and attempt to make up for lost time. You throw sandwiches and fruit into lunchboxes for your children while eggs are frying and bread is toasting, and your eyes switch back and forth between the morning news on the T.V. and work emails on your phone. You attempt to pour yourself a cup of coffee while typing up an email. Coffee spills all over the table, and the smell of burnt toast fills the room. Does this situation sound familiar?
In this day and age, people often turn to multitasking to keep themselves on schedule. However, research has shown that the human brain isn’t very good at handling more than one task at once. Consider this: Driving while using a cell phone impairs your driving ability to the same extent as drinking four beers would. This is because the brain can’t really split its focus to two different tasks at the same time; rather, it switches rapidly back and forth between the two tasks. If you’re focused on a text, you’re not really processing what’s happening around you on the road.
Despite these facts, the demands of modern life often require us to give attention to multiple tasks at once. Here are some suggestions to help you be a more efficient multitasker:
- Prioritize: Make a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish, then order them from most to least important. Consider devoting your full attention to the top two or three tasks. More complex tasks require undivided attention.
Bundle compatible tasks: Some tasks are easier to combine than others. For example, you could listen to voicemails while stapling papers, but it would be difficult to listen to voicemails while typing up emails.
Set aside time to review information: Multitasking may interfere with your brain’s ability to commit new information to memory. If you need to multitask during a meeting, set aside a few minutes after the meeting to review the powerpoint or handouts and make sure you know what was covered.
Avoid distractions: Trying to focus on multiple tasks at once is hard enough as it is, so try to minimize outside disruptions. Turn off your phone, the radio or the T.V. Move to a quiet room so you aren’t distracted by other people’s conversations. Allow yourself to focus completely on your tasks.
Save simple tasks for downtime: You may be in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, waiting in your parked car for your kids or waiting for a colleague to show up for a meeting. Set aside simple tasks that can be easily started and stopped for these free moments.