The Lever #008: The Myth of Multitasking
Updated: Mar 10
The fastest way to become productive, prolific, and profitable is by:
1. Having a plan
2. Applying single-minded focus
Today's issue looks at point No. 2 by showing you the myth of multi-tasking, and giving you a tool to efficiently move to, and stay on, a new task.
Before we start:
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The Myth of Multitasking
Rapidly moving between tasks, also known as multitasking, has been proven to reduce overall productivity by more than 20%. Your brain is simply not wired to focus on more than one thing at a time.
You might feel like you are able to perform multiple actions simultaneously, but what you are actually doing is rapidly switching from one thing to the other.
This scientific term for this is Context Switching
And all of the productivity tools in the world won’t help if you don’t actually do the thing you said you were going to do, when you said you were going to do it.
Every time you move from one task to another you change your mental control settings. You think you are multitasking, but are actually Context Switching, and this takes a massive toll on productivity.
Decades of research conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) going back to the 1990’s found that shifting between tasks takes place over two stages:
1. Goal shifting
2. Rule activation
Goal shifting is where your brain switches from "I was doing that" to "I'm now doing this".
Rule activation then turns off the rules for how to do "that", and turns on the rules for how to do "this".
There is also a time penalty that occurs when switching between two tasks. This is known as the Switching Cost, and it also has two parts:
1. Time to adjust your mental control settings
2. Carry-over of the previous control settings
This is where it gets interesting
The time to adjust your mental control setting when moving from one task to another can be done in advance (if you have time), but that the carry-over of previous settings was immune to preparation.
What does this mean for you?
The key to minimizing the switching penalty, and for quickly shifting focus to the new task, is to mindfully stop what you were doing, and mentally recalibrate your settings for the new task.
When you reach the end of a time block, or when a task reaches its natural conclusion, take a few seconds to run through the Task Switching Sequence.
The Task Switching Sequence
Run through this sequence when moving from one task to a new one:
1. Close your eyes and take a deep, cleansing breath
2. Say to yourself, “I am finished with [THIS TASK]. Now I am going to focus on [THAT TASK], which is important because [REASON].
That last bit, about naming why the new task is important, is crucial. The greater the reason, the faster you'll make the switch.
Make sure to tie the reason back to one of your Big-5 goals if possible (see p.s. below for more on this). This creates a powerful connection between the task and your greater purpose. And as an added bonus this also serves as a goal reminder, which motivates you subconsciously to do your best work.
This short switching sequence will help you more quickly put the old task to rest, start up the new task, and bolster your commitment to focusing on the task at hand.
Self-talk is self-programming. The brain functions more like a computer than you realize. Take advantage of this by learning the brains programming language. Upgrade your operating system.
Single tasking reduces your productivity by 20%
There is a time penalty when context switching
Combat this using the Task Switching Sequence
With the new year fast approaching, next weeks issue (the last of the year!) will take a close look at goal setting, and the ONE goal you should commit to for 2023.
Don't miss it.
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