Everyone I know multitasks, including me. The times seem to demand it -- our phones are now the bridge between us and the world, and on an hourly basis we are bombarded with new demands and new information.
And like most people I know, I think I'm good at it. But the truth is that I'm not, and--most likely--neither are you.
Based on five decades of research in cognitive science and more recent studies on multitasking, we know with certainty that multitaskers do less and they do it worse. It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to your original task after a new email comes in and you can't resist looking at it. Text is even worse. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%.
But what about tasks that are simple and routine, like cleaning up the dinner dishes while listening to a podcast? Music while walking the dog? Folding laundry and talking on the phone? I've got to believe there's no harm there. But when the stakes are higher and things become more complex, multitasking makes life worse.
So what can we do?
Mindfulness to the rescue.
Step 1) Try to notice when your attention becomes divided, in real time.
Step 2) Consciously avoid succumbing to the illusion that you can get more than one thing done simultaneously. Remember this, burn it in your brain. Resist.
Step 3) Refocus on what you intended to do before you became aware of the burning desire to do something else. Finish it!
Step 4) When you really do need to switch tasks, do it mindfully. Go ahead and check your email/texts. Go ahead and go to twitter or Instagram or youtube or wherever. But do it with absolutely clarity. And then savor it, knowing that you're doing it consciously.
Waking ourselves from the trance is an excellent way to proceed to doing what really matters to us. No one else can do this for us.