As a Recruiter and Career Coach, I’ve read thousands of resumes over the past 15 years. One skill that used to be a frequent buzzword on resumes was the ability to “multi-task.” The talent of performing several activities simultaneously was a desirable characteristic. Of course, the assumption was that tasks were also being completed effectively while multi-tasking.
Today, multi-tasking is no longer a skill. It’s a way of life. In fact, it’s become a challenge to “single-task” or focus on one thing. When we drive, we’re drinking coffee or singing karaoke-style with the radio. When exercising, we listed to Podcasts. We eat in front of the TV, peruse Facebook while in line, respond to e-mail during conference calls, and text while walking through the mall (click here for an unfortunate encounter involving a fountain).
The increase in available data and addition of convenient distractions has definitely contributed to the temptation to multi-task. Despite studies that indicate we’re actually less productive when multi-tasking, our attention span is morphing in such a way that we get anxious when only doing one task. After all, the elevator ride is a great place to update Twitter. Why is this? Fear of missing out?
Research points to two possible reasons why multi-tasking is so addictive: 1) we get an emotional boost from believing we are being more productive, and 2) it becomes a habit, and habits are comforting.
Yet, in addition to a drop in productivity, one study involving participants wearing heart monitors indicated that multi-tasking may increase stress levels.
So, why not try single-tasking and see if your productivity increases and your stress levels decrease? Here are some ideas:
1) One of the simplest (although NOT easiest) solutions is to close down email/text/social media and only check devices at scheduled times throughout the day. This takes willpower and practice, but you’ll soon notice the benefits. If you can avoid media for the first hour of your day and focus on your toughest projects (for me, it’s working out or writing), you may quickly realize that you have time for those things you’ve been putting off.
2) Avoid screens (television, computer, smartphone, etc.) 60 minutes prior to bedtime. This will reduce the “clutter” in your mind, which leads to better sleep (electronics are stimulating). Find a relaxing ritual like reading a book or taking a bath.
3) Meditate. Research consistently points to the benefits of meditation including boosting the immune system, lowing stress and supporting weight loss. In addition, the amygdala’s response to emotional stimuli is changed by meditation, and this effect occurs even when not actively meditating, so giving up multi-tasking may become easier (for more benefits of meditation, check out this link).
4) Don’t confuse multi-tasking with prioritizing. Prioritization is doing tasks in the most effective succession – versus simultaneously – and can be incredibly productive.
5) If you absolutely must multi-task, you’ll be slightly more successful if you do two tasks simultaneously that require different cognitive functions. Reading while on an elliptical is much easier than trying to participate on a conference call while reading email.
Lastly, single-tasking can be deliciously enjoyable. Think about the last time you got lost in a great book, indulged in a massage, or spent the afternoon biking through amazing landscape. These experiences are so pleasurable, in part, because they’re uninterrupted by the clutter of life. We have the power to enjoy this unspoiled state anywhere by practicing single-tasking. Why not give it a try this week?