In 1740, Lord Chesterfield offered the following advice: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.“
Repeatedly, science has shown that multitasking does not save time, in fact it can make you stupid! A Wall Street Journal article from 2003 titled the Pitfalls of Doing Too Much at Once to an August INC magazine article titled Multitasking is Making You Stupid.
We would all agree, that texting while driving is a big no-no. But what about reading while riding the exercise bike? Or listening to music or the radio while driving? Or cooking dinner with a baby on your hip? Here is where I draw the line on what is OK multitasking and what is not. Our brains can only preform one higher level task at a time. The higher level tasks or functions require attention and focus, the lower level tasks are routine and often repetitive. When we try to preform two higher level tasks it is like trying to watch two different tennis matches at the same time – you are going to miss something. This is also why texting and driving is so deadly – two higher level tasks that cannot co-exist.
The lower level tasks that can happened in the background might include listening to the radio or music while working. Or watching the television while knitting. Or day dreaming while walking the dog. The lower level task is operating in the background. Tasks like mowing the lawn, just seem to go better with a little music and watching the TV while knitting might be fine for an experienced knitter. The focus is on the lawn, or the knitting, or the dog and the lower level activity is the music, the TV or the day dream. Foreground vs. background.
What doesn’t seem to work, is trying to complete two goals at the same time. This is where focus needs to happen. When you shift from one goal to the other you have created more chance for error and mistakes. If you cook or watch a cook, you may think they are multitasking – having put a few large meals together in my time, I have come to believe that a really great chef has an internal clock that knows – “the potatoes have to mashed at 6PM” and the dessert has to be served at 7PM”. This is a prefect example in my world of a Goal – “Prepare and Serve a meal for my family” that has a series of tasks. To this day, if I’m serving a new meal or have new guests, I’ll make a timeline that gives me the breakdown of when the different parts of the whole meal need starting and finishing. If it doesn’t get on the list, it usually doesn’t make it to the table, which explains the untouched salsa and chips I discovered in the back of the ‘frig last week. Again, the goal is the meal which has a multitude of tasks. Many of us in the kitchen have music, radio or conversations going – that is the background.
Multitasking is really switching from goal to goal and in the end, you will get less done and often not be happy with the results. Have a good week staying focused and productive.