All Multitasks and No Focus Makes Jack Jacked


You may or may not have noticed I missed my blog deadline last week. I could go through the list of tasks on my desk, off-the-clock commitments and non sequiturs racing through my brain at any given moment. Instead, I will attempt to learn something about the trap that caused my #blogfail.

Science On My Side

As stated in several other posts, I’m not a scientist nor do I play one on TV. However, I do love to Google and found this concise, easy to understand article on The Multitasking Mind from It’s from a few years ago, but I figure the Society for Neuroscience makes it still valid.

In a nutshell, it says multiple tasks cause our brains cells to split up in the “divide and conquer” mode which results in less focus and more mistakes per task. Two tasks split our brain down the middle. Any more than that, and we start to forget stuff. It reminds us continued practice may make some individual tasks more automatic and thereby require less hyper-focus on one, it does not solve the segmentation in our brain. All of which (no surprises here) gets harder and harder to reconnect as we get older. Form of: senior moments.

No Known Cure

Until we can replace our organic brains with the microprocessors that convinced us we could multitask in the first place, we will continue the pattern of “task-switching” as opposed to true multitasking. There are a few workarounds to reduce missteps and increase efficiency.

  • One thing at a time for a designated amount of time. It’s my guess none of us has the ability to only do one thing all day, every day at work. Even large, albeit singular projects have multiple, cross connected tasks. What we can do is apportion our day to concentrate on specific sections one by one. Block out a four-hour chunk on your calendar a few times a week to dedicate both frontal lobes towards one of the more significant goals. Find other smaller blocks of time to devote to other parts of the project. By the end of the week, you may find you have accomplished twice as much this way over all the starts and stops of the old accustomed way.
  • Turn off email, phone and internet. I know, I know. This one hurts. We have all been tricked by technology to assume we get so much more done if we monitor and address minor matters as they come up. It’s like any addiction – we have to first recognize we have a problem before we can break free. Sure, it feels great to see an email notification pop up, use three minutes of my time and receive a “you’re a rockstar” response in return. But when I do that ten times in an hour, and it takes my brain about 30 minutes to get back on track –the entire day operates in deficit mode. I suggest (as do the many productivity speakers I have listened to) you allow one way for true emergency interruptions, check email, phone and social at declared, designated times and work the rest of the day “off the grid.”
  • Keep it simple. And, by “it” I mean “everything.” The only thing that needs to be addressed as if it is rocket science is, in fact, rocket science. Do you sometimes forget what you’re working towards? Goals and objectives are so much easier to achieve if they are straightforward and free from the sin of vaguery brought about through buzzwords and complicated processes. Plus, there’s no need to have 800 little meetings on your schedule if one or two more comprehensive ones do the trick. Remember the neuroscience stuff I mentioned before? Those snazzy synapses in your brain find unencumbered paths to their intended destinations when your email, phone and internet are muted. Is your work area crowded with post-it note reminders, piles of files or an easy view of the breakroom snacks and chats? Work through a declutter program of your choice to minimize the visible paper distractions. Get approval to rearrange your work area or invest in a motivational poster to block your view of the donut-riddled water cooler.

Single Task: A New Hope

Well, my blog is done for this week and I learned some new ways to get focused and get things done. Let me know some of your suggestions on how to navigate daily assignments, large projects and life in general and not succumb to the dark side of multitasking.

Kathleen Vaught is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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