I’m staring in front of a vast arrangement of Keurig Coffee cups, shifting my weight from one leg to another. “She said what? Hold on” I tell my wife as I check my iPhone for the tenth time in five minutes, trying to remember what I put on the grocery list. And of course, coffee is nowhere to be found. I bring the phone back to my ear, “Hey, I’m still here. What happened next?” As I begin to gallivant to the next aisle, I immediately forget what was next on the list. On top of that, I have no idea what the last thing my wife said was. As I leave, I wonder how I will ever justify taking an hour to pick up almond milk, toothpaste and Cheerios. I say that multitasking is to blame.
Have you ever walked into the kitchen and thought “why did I come here again?” These days, our attention spans have been conditioned to constantly switch from one process to another. Now we can watch Netflix, laugh at our friend’s Facebook status and Instagram our dinner while eating it all at the same time. It’s no wonder our brains are hard-coded to hop around. Multitasking used to be a sought after trait by employers, but recently our eyes have been opened to it’s inefficiencies.
Our minds are just like any scarce resource. It is impossible to commit 100% of your capital to more than one process. When we apply ourselves to more than one activity at once, we are cheating ourselves of our potential. Most of us purposely interrupt one task to address another. We have trained our attention to be distracted on cue.
I always had to have Ben & Jerry’s ice cream whenever my wife and I watched an episode of Dexter. What I thought I was doing was increasing the pleasure of the experience, when in fact I was doing the opposite. Multi-tasking hinders pleasure just like it hinders efficiency. I was minimizing the taste of my treat as well as the enjoyment of my favorite show. If you are like I was, try watching your favorite shows with no distractions. No food, no social media, nothing. On the flip side – if you usually eat dinner while watching TV, try the meal without it. From personal experience, I promise you will find both activities much more enjoyable.
The irony of multitasking is that many of us continue to do it. Like Dexter’s addiction to serial killing, we are convinced that it is necessary. Regardless of studies and proven examples, a bulk of us continue to favor convenience over effectiveness. Although our friend Dexter isn’t a role model, we can admire his commitment to mono-tasking. Thanks to his father Harry, he follows a strict code. He focuses on one task, blocking out all distractions around him. You never see him tweeting or checking who has visited his LinkedIn profile with his latest “project” on the table.
Whether we are facing the challenges of grocery shopping, working at our desks, or enjoying our leisure time, multitasking is playing a role in our lives. What I am hoping to do is to open our eyes to what we are missing out on. If the activities we do can be improved simply by focusing and eliminating distractions, I believe that it’s worth a shot. Stanford researcher Clifford Nass suggests what he calls the 20-minute rule. Instead of multitasking by the minute, give yourself 20-minutes to a single task, then switch to the next one.
Multitasking has caused me to spend an undesirable amount of time doing simple daily tasks and robbed me of fully enjoying my favorite activities. Do you have any stories on how multitasking has gotten you into a compromising position? Anything like George’s situation below? Let’s hear it!