In The News: The Myth of Multitasking

I’m watching a car creep down my street while its driver is on the phone. We all know that talking on the phone while driving gives you the equivalent awareness of being drunk. (Now that the law says drivers must use headsets, it’s harder to know who’s “drunk” these days.)

You may have seen the headlines last month about the scientific study showing multitasking doesn’t even exist – that is, it’s technically impossible to think about two things at once. Instead, our brains just move quickly from task to task, so we think we are doing two things at once.

In this quiet space of winter, what seems like the best time to multitask during holiday madness is actually the perfect time to practice focus. Here’s how I help my clients get the most from their skills when life is pulling them every direction:

  • First, we burst the bubble that is the belief that multitasking increases productivity. For example, it takes about a minute on average to refocus on what you were doing before you interrupted yourself with an email. This adds up to a lot of lost time every day.
  • Next, if you read last month’s column about energy, you know that your personal attention is limited. You have only a fixed amount of energy, so spreading it around while only partially devoting yourself to each task is not actually conserving anything. You might in the short term be saving time. But as my high school art teacher had posted on the wall, “If you don’t have time to do it correctly now, how will you have time to do it all over again?”
  • Last, you begin with the little things: stay for the whole game, for example, without rushing to the next event. Pay full attention to your next phone call by sitting down and listening. Then spend a little time thinking about the art of devotion. Devotion to a person, a hobby, a sport, or a mission can be a deeply satisfying practice.

Therapy is a great place to practice focus: it’s just you, me, tea, and thoughts about your life that keep you directed and aware. No wonder 90% of people who seek therapy report increased satisfaction with their lives!

Read more about the myth of multitasking here.