The multitasking myth or, how Twitter made me miss my bus stop!

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I was commenting an article about multitasking with a class (I am a Spanish language teacher) and we all agreed that multitasking is not something actually possible.

We do swap activities at an extremely fast speed, not spending an extended period of time on any one of them. With all the juggling we have to do daily, it seems to be a question of setting priorities and finding some balance in this hectic activity-filled life of ours.

We actually believe we can do many things at the same time. But we can’t. We can run and listen to music but this is not the brain at work, this is an effortless reflex activity. When it comes to really focusing, we need to strain our brain, and the brain can only focus on one thinking activity at a time.

Our two minds

In his book, Thinking, fast and slow, psychologist and Nobel Prize laureate, Daniel Kahneman, explains why multitasking cannot be done.

He suggests the brain has two operating systems, calling System 1, an automatic, quick response system, with little or no sense of voluntary control or effort. And System 2 being the one that requires effortful attention and concentration.

System 1 operates with no effortful thinking, as in walking, running from danger, tying your shoe laces, and system 2 is involved with reading, decision-making, writing etc…

This explains how we cannot write and listen to someone at the same time as this would be system 2 at work on both tasks. But you can use system 1 to run and at the same time  think about how to solve a problem, using system 2.

Quality trumps quantity

But when you actually try to juggle everything at the same time, or rather, intermittently, jumping from one task to another, something is going to give. Your brain can only take so much overstimulation and stress. Quality is going to suffer, for one. And you might be so distracted by all the mental activity, that it might become dangerous. As in: driving and texting!

Mindlessness vs mindfulness

A few days ago, I was happily riding my bus back home from work, tweeting, reading email and texting. I was so immersed in the activity on my usual 35 minute ride, that when I looked up from my phone, I had missed my stop! By about 15 blocks, at night. Not fun.

I´ve had more slip ups of late, that I’m sure some of you can relate to. I´ve been going through the motions, not really paying attention to those tasks which require no mental effort, like locking the door, placing the milk in the fridge… These things I hardly remember doing and it gets a bit scary! Did I lock the front door? Did I make that call? Have I mailed the letter? Did I pay the rent? Have I turned off the heater? This did happen before, but not as frequently. Amazingly I haven’t been run over by a car, so far!

Back to post-its

How many of you feel like you are living life in a floating mode? Neither here nor there, but everywhere. In a dream-like state, going through the motions of your daily tasks, and feeling life, real life, is escaping you.

Connected to your phone, and thus to the world. Headsets on, walking around in a kind of daze while tweeting, checking mail and texting.

But, work we must, and get things done. Our check lists are long! I often think I have to write down, on my to do list, that I have to check my to do list! I’m actually going back to good old paper post -its!

Put your heart in your check-list

A year ago, my blood pressure shot up and I usually have low blood pressure. I had to take medication, I relaxed a bit for a few days and it went down,  back to normal. Now it’s back up because of my fear of forgetting to get my check-list done! I now have to write down an extra item to the list! Relax and prioritize! And take care of number 1 and that is me! If you have a heart attack, your check list will really fall behind!

Here are some tips to decompress, slow down and be more effective:

-Try mindfulness. Staying in the now of what you are doing.
-Exercise every day, first thing if you can, to clear your mind.
– Don’t check your phone or computer until after breakfast. Use this time to read something that has nothing to do with your profession.
-Set a frequency for tweeting. Like two or three times a day or use Bufferapp, which schedules your tweets if this is what you use as a work tool.
-Check your phone for new messages only every hour. Let people you work with know this is your practice.
-Appear signed out of chat so you are not interrupted.
-Use your commuting time to relax, whether you drive or take public transportation, listen to music or meditate.
-Read something before going to sleep, but nothing work related.
-Set a time limit. A time at which you will no longer check your mail.
-Do one thing at a time!
-Take up yoga.
-Spend time with friends.

And relax!

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