Multi-tasking is a Myth

I was watching a lecture the other day about mindfulness and the speaker was talking about the value and benefits of being able to live in the moment and be focused on one thing at one time. It brought to mind Thich Naht Hanh’s comment about when you are doing the dishes, do the dishes.

He then said that people think they are good at multi-tasking but in reality, they are not. It was at that point I thought to myself, I’m an excellent multi-tasker he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And this from someone who believes in practising mindfulness; I genuinely try to be mindful throughout my day, but I STILL bounce from task to task. I work for myself, I’m an entrepreneur – of course I multi-task, doesn’t everyone?

To prove his point, he asked his audience to recite the alphabet as quickly as possible. I dutifully said my ABC’s and finished in about 10-seconds. He then asked us to count as quickly as we could from 1 to 26; again, I complied and finished in 9-seconds. Feeling pretty pleased with myself so far, I awaited his next instruction, which was to combine the two – that is recite A1, B2, C3 etc. as fast as we could. After a frustrating minute or so, I gave up. He then commented that if we found combining two such simple tasks together, what hope did we have of being efficient, accurate and effective at combining several more complex tasks? Sure, it’s possible, but at what cost?

That made me think about multi-tasking while driving – yes using one’s cell phone behind the wheel of your car. It didn’t take me long to discover that one in four car accidents in the U.S. is caused by someone texting. Almost 3,500 people were killed in 2016 due to distracted driving and there were 421,000 crashes resulting in injury.

So, yes most of us can and do multi-task, but is really effective? In many cases it’s multi-handling which wastes time. It has also been found to be stressful and to actually diminish creativity. A study was carried out which discovered that people that used their cell phone while driving took longer to get to their destination!

Experts suggest that batching similar tasks is much more efficient than multi-tasking as you get into a specific mindset and you make less mistakes and miss less.

Having taken to increasingly practising mindfulness I find myself multi-tasking less frequently and you know, I’m actually achieving more! Perhaps mindfulness will become the new “in” technique for entrepreneurs; if it does, we can expect an increase in productivity.

Oh, hold on, I must check the email that just came in – NOT!