Because the truth is we really cannot do two things at the same time—we are only one person with only one brain. Neurologically speaking, it has been proven to be impossible. What we are really doing is switching back and forth between two tasks rapidly, typing here, paying attention there, checking our “crackberry” here, answering voicemail there back and forth back and forth at a high rate. Keep this up over a long period of time, and you have deeply engrained habits that cause stress and anxiety and dropped responsibilities and a myriad of productivity & focus problems. It’s little wonder so many people complain of increasingly short attention spans!
When we speak of multitasking, what we really mean is that we are switchtasking: switching rapidly between one task and another. Yet, each time we switch, no matter how quickly that switch takes place in our mind, there is a cost associated with it. It’s an economic term called switching cost—and the switching cost is high.
May I offer the following “beginning steps” to help slow down the switchtasking in your life?
1. Take control over technology
Your cell phone ringer (even on vibrate) doesn’t need to be on all the time. You can turn off email notification on your computer as well. Become master over the nagging beeps and buzzes by creating some silence.
2. Schedule what you can schedule
Set regular times in the day and week to check your voicemail and email. Let others know that you will be using that schedule so they know when to expect a reply.
3. Focus on the person
When you switchtask when dealing with a computer, you simply lose efficiency. But if you switchtask on a human being, you additionally damage a relationship. Be present, listen carefully, and make sure everything has been taken care of before moving on.