Become a multitasking genius
Can you multitask? Most people can’t really and truly multitask because their brains can only focus on one thing at a time. What they do is switch back and forth very quickly between tasks. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we all know that we feel more productive when we’re doing several things at once – but if you want to truly multitask, you’re going to need to use your brain differently than most.
The first step is understanding what multitasking even means and what it entails: trying to do multiple tasks at once. For example, when you sit down at the computer with a cup of coffee and try to read an email from your boss while getting online and having a quick chat with your friend over Skype, you’re not multitasking. You’re just switching back and forth between tasks very quickly.
In today’s world, being able to juggle multiple tasks is a valuable commodity. Why? The world
Moves fast and if you can’t keep up with it then you will be left behind.
Now, dealing with multiple demands isn’t the same as juggling a collection of balls or other objects in the air. These types of multitasking should be avoided. Instead, we want to focus on juggling multiple cognitive tasks or mental models.
Your mind is like a computer and can only process so much information at one time. Therefore it automatically switches back and forth between the different mental models you are thinking about. This constant switching is called task-switching, similar to how Windows of MacOS will automatically switch between running programs.
The trick is to make sure the task-switching is working for you and not against you. How can do this? Let’s take a look at some strategies that will help you become a multitasking genius.
First, be mindful of which tasks are most important at any given moment. By doing this you can preplan in your mind how you are going to divide up the mental energy throughout your day. By doing this you will always know which tasks deserve the most attention.
Another trick is to be conscious of what mental state you are in. Are you tired or energetic? It’s very important to optimize when you do certain jobs that require specific levels of attention. For example, if you are fatigued it’s best to do some smaller tasks like checking email or reading the news instead of trying to work on a big project. On the flip side if you are feeling energetic you should seize this opportunity and tackle some tough problems.
The third trick is about how your mind switches between different types of thinking. You want to find ways to make it easier on yourself. For example, try studying while listening to classical music or other types of passive noise like the ocean to help relax your mind enough for more efficient learning.
The last trick is to take advantage of social cues in your environment. If you are by yourself then there is no telling what type of mood you will be in. However, if you are with other people then your mind is forced to pick up on these cues and try to match that same level of energy or thinking style.
The next time you multitask make sure you are using it to your advantage instead of letting it use you.
With that in mind, when we talk about multitasking, we’re talking about doing more than one thing at once; or to be even clearer (and simpler) – doing two things at the same time.
The secret to multitasking, despite what most people say, is twofold: not trying to multitask at all, and increasing your brain’s ability to focus on more than one thing at a time.
How to Multitask Without Actually Multitasking
I know I just said that trying to do multiple things at once (rather than switching back and forth between tasks) isn’t multitasking, but the truth is that it’s not bad for you. It may feel like you’re multitasking, but what’s happening is that your brain is focusing on more than one thing at once. This means that your performance in whatever tasks you give yourself will be increased, but it won’t be as efficient as if you were to multitask.
- You’re doing it by choice. If you sit down and decide that you want to read something while talking on the phone, it’s fine. If some other activity pops up as a necessity – an email pop-up or a broken dishwasher – then there is no shame in completing that task before you start working again.
- You aren’t trying to talk and read at the same time. Just like you shouldn’t walk and type at the same time, you shouldn’t try to say something and read a text or article simultaneously.
- You aren’t going from one task to another every two seconds, because it’s not effective and puts a huge amount of mental strain on you.
- You can handle what is being thrown at you. If someone brings you a box of broken dishes, that’s an interruption. If your internet goes out, that’s an interruption.
- You can handle your feelings when all this happens. It is okay to be frustrated if something interrupts you in the middle of a huge project; it’s not okay to take your frustration out on someone else or yourself.