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May
15

On Chasing Rabbits and the Multitasking Myth

By

To do two things at the same time is to do neither – Publilius Syrus, Slave in the first century, B.C.

Spring came reluctantly but it is here at last with fresh green grass on the slopes of the hills around us and bouncy little rabbits popping out of holes eveywhere.

Our little dog Ginger is perplexed. She cocks her little head in bewilderment, first this way and then that, at how the bunnies pop in and out of the field, give her a come hither flicker of tufty tail and then disappear swiftly into the ground.

She goes quite crazy chasing first this rabbit, and then that, catching neither in her hot pursuit of  the cheeky little teases. Never having caught a wild rabbit either, I was wondering if I was qualified to give her tips on how to chase one rabbit at a time , with single minded focus, in order to stand a chance of  catching it!

Because in my own way I tend to do pretty much the exact same thing. It made me wonder at how many rabbits, (metaphorically speaking) we chase, trying to do two or more things at the same time, in our pursuit of efficiency which constantly, and not surprisingly, eludes us.

And yet we all know that in our modern times, along with new technological innovations come unlimited demands on our time and attention. We try to do it all – eat while driving, watch TV while eating, listen to music while we study and try and be on the cell phone or blackberry while doing everything else.

So why do interviewers and people at work and at home expect us to be efficient at Multitasking? Are they trying to get more for their money , deceive time, or just set us up for failure, and an early and certain crash and burn?

Trying to multitask and be productive is impossible. We all wish we had an extra day in the week (available to only us of course) to get caught up, or that the cloning technology made swift strides so we could defy the limitations of time, by having our clone live  a parallel life with us, and do all the things we have not been able to get around to.

Granted the busier I get, the more efficient I become with my time, but only if I do one thing at a time. Flooded with too many things to do, too many hats to wear and plagued by multiple demands on my time and energy, I divide my attention between two things at the same time and royally screw both simultaneously.

 Just like an oarsman who cannot row two boats simultaneously to shore, or  a rider on two horses. Eventually somethings gotta give, and its usually you!

You see, technology may have evolved, but our biological brains have not. There is a constant, unabated flow of information coming our way- which is difficult for our brains to process , nor is it built to handle multi-tasking at the same time.

Research was done to train our brains to work faster, by moving one activity such as driving or listening to music to   “autopilot” – things that we can do unconsciously while we shift our conscious attention on the second thing that requires more focus.

It was concluded that our brains are just not equipped to do parallel processing. We may be able to switch tasks or our focus on tasks swiftly enough, which gives the impression of multitasking, but at any given moment we are still only doing one thing at a time. The brain still has to consult the pre-frontal cortex for directions and that allows for only one action at a time.

And lets just put paid to the other prevalent myth that women are better at multitasking than men.

While it is true that child rearing, managing a million household chores and juggling career priorities seem to be the lot of many modern women- they cannot multitask and still do a good job at each. The apparent ease with which they appear to multitask, is just more rapid switch tasking.

And the cost of  switching from task to task is very high, resulting in higher levels of stress and an ultimate breakdown of the machine! Not to mention the loss of time to recover from the errors made while engaging in multitasking.  And what is worse the high cost in damage to relationships with your children, spouse and co-workers.

In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, it is so refreshing when someone switches off a television set, looks you in the eye and listens to what you are trying to say. This can only improve the quality of the relationships we have with those who are important to us.

Here are some tips to deal with our many demands of time with self discipline at doing the appropriate thing at the right time.

1. Take control of your time and technology

  • Work with only one browser window open at a time.
  • Close off your email and chat windows when focusing on one important document
  •  Shut the door to your work space while working or hang a do not disturb sign

2. Schedule what you can

  • use a calendar to schedule time for people so you can give them your full attention
  • Check your email at specific times- once or twice a day only instead of all the time
  • Prioritize what needs to be done in order of importance and urgency

3. Focus on the person

  • Switch off the television or your cellphone
  • Be in the moment giving them your full listening attention
  • Stop doing any other task, slow down

Remember this rule: The more responsibility you have, the more hats you wear- the more likely you are to become inefficient. Chasing too many rabbits and multitasking is a lie that wastes time, costs money and far from being effective, can actually damage relationships and bring down your productivity.

Just do one thing at a time, with focus. How many rabbits have you caught recently?

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Categories : Productivity

Comments

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