The Myth of Multitasking

Let’s start with the facts; multitasking doesn’t exist. Although, we’ll roll with the term for the sake of familiarity.

The word, the myth, the legend, first emerged in the 1960s in reference to computer technology in an IBM report - and we somehow ended up using it to describe human brain activity.

What we refer to as ‘multitasking’ is actually the process of task switching when our brain rapidly moves from one task another and back again. This wasn’t good for you in school (I can’t be the only one who got those reports saying ‘xxx is easily distracted’), and it’s definitely not good for your career. Yet, somewhere along the way, multitasking has become an integral part of our lives both in work and at home.

Most of us are highly skilled in the art of sending a tweet, whilst cooking up dinner, and watching the TV at the same time. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had to rewind a show back a few minutes because I got distracted by a twitter chat! We never really relax, we’re always on the go, and the myth of multitasking is that this is good for us.

Well, it isn’t. Multitasking isn’t good for us at all.

According to neuroscientist Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, getting into a habit of multitasking is one of the most dangerous things we can do to ourselves;

“We think that we’re doing all these things at once but the brain doesn’t work that way,’ he says. ‘Every three or four seconds we switch to another thing, we are paying attention to one thing and then the next and then the next and then we come back around again to the first. All of that switching comes at a neurobiological cost. It depletes essential neuro-resources that you need for actually doing things and thinking things.”

More Priorities = Less Productivity

How many priorities do you have in an average day? Three? Maybe four? Therein lies the problem. As our lives get busier, we like to prioritize everything. It makes us feel productive to see five important tasks on our to-do list for the day — and it’s great while it lasts — until 6pm rolls around and you’ve only covered one of them, or done a rubbish job on all five.

Did you know that the average person checks their email every five minutes in the working day? Or that it takes about 64 seconds for that person to get back on track with their work afterwards? That’s six minutes lost to your email inbox every single hour. Have a think about that for a second. Just a second though; you’re already using up enough time as it is!

Sure, you can do two or three things at once — you do it every day. But what you can’t do, is actually concentrate on multiple things at the one time. Have you ever tried writing an email whilst talking to someone else on the phone about something entirely unrelated? I have…

‘Dear Customer, thank you for your email! We will get back to you ASAP. Will you pick up the laundry on the way home?’

Fail Town: Population — Gráinne.

When Buckets initially came into being, it was as a result of numerous conversations between our co-founders Mike Smutka and Eric Greninger, about how to manage their daily work schedules without letting their workloads take over their entire lives. They needed a way of prioritizing both time and tasks, so that they didn’t have to think twice — or think much at all.

In LBB (Life Before Buckets), we used to try to do everything at once rather than actually sit down and figure out what the most important task was to focus on for each day. And it was head melting. There’s no other word for it.

Multitasking causes your brain to constantly switch from one task to another, which is pretty exhausting. It’s like Crossfit for your brain, but worse.

The sole purpose of the initial Buckets prototype was to find a way to focus on just one thing at a time and eliminate any and all distractions where possible. And the Kanban System was the answer. This is a system where users are presented with 3 sections: To Do, Doing, and Done. By following this method and moving Projects along a series of stages, you can avoid the erratic nature of multitasking and ensure that you only focus on one priority at any particular time.

Best selling author, Greg McKeown, explains the history of priorities in his book — ‘Essentialism The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.’

‘The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.
Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things.
People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of this experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.’

Since its humble beginnings, Buckets has risen from a small project amongst friends to an international community of thousands of users across the globe who are all focused on tackling one Project at a time, one task at a time, and one Checklist at a time. Our focus is always on working on the most important thing at the most important time, because that’s how we get things done. It’s how everyone gets things done. And that’s what we’re about — getting things done.

So, Here Are A Few Take Home Points

In comparison to single tasking, multitasking offers mediocre results. Sure, you’ll get more done, but you’ll likely spend even more time re-doing it. By focusing your full attention on one task at a time, you can carve out time to disconnect and go into ‘deep thinking’ mode. You’d be surprised at how much more work you’ll get done with minimal distractions and just one single task on your list.

Decide what’s most important today and do it. Everything else is secondary. This completely removes any inner negotiations about what should be done first, or next, or now. Figure out what your ONE priority is for the day and map the rest of your work around that.

Being busy doesn’t mean that you’re being productive. It’s time to place value in your work and your results, rather than rushing through things just for the sake of feeling like you’ve accomplished something.

And finally — use technology to your advantage rather than letting it distract you. You could easily waste a day away looking for new productivity tips online or trying to find new innovative ways to get more done in your day. Or, you could simply check out our task management system over at Buckets and write tomorrow’s to-do list today.

Thanks For Reading!

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