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Why Multitasking Just Won’t Work

Think about all the things you might be doing right now—reading this blog, listening to music, checking your email in another browser tab, texting a friend or playing a computer game.

If you are doing several different things at once, you may think you are multitasking. Can people really multitask? The answer is NO! Multitasking is a myth!

In this article we’ll examine some of the issues associated with multitasking and why we shouldn’t do it. We’ll also look at some suggestions to help you get out of the multitasking habit.

Multitasking is a myth because the human brain cannot perform two tasks simultaneously that require focus and concentration. Low level routine activities like breathing aren’t considered multitasking because they do not require concentration.

When you juggle multiple activities that require focus and concentration, multitasking does not work. The brain isn’t wired to take in, process or pay attention to two separate streams of information simultaneously and fully encode them in the short term memory.  Information that doesn’t make it into the short term memory can’t be transferred to the long term memory for recall later. If you can’t recall it, you can’t use it. If you are trying to learn something from whatever you are doing, the multitasking actually works against you.  It makes you less efficient, not more.

Research also shows that when someone tries to multitask, the brain becomes overwhelmed and brain activity actually begins to decrease so each task is completed less efficiently than when they are conducted separately. That’s why texting and driving is so dangerous.

When we switch tasks, our minds must reorient to cope with the new information. If we do this rapidly, like when we are multitasking, we simply cannot devote our full concentration and focus to every switch. So the quality of our work suffers.  The more complex or technical the tasks we’re switching between, the bigger drop in the quality is likely to be. For example, it would be almost impossible to prepare a high quality presentation while having an emotionally charged conversation with a co-worker.

Furthermore, multitasking negatively affects your concentration. Shifting focus so fast and often is the antithesis of concentration so if you really need to concentrate on one thing you should do just that.

Finally, multitasking usually lowers the quality of our work because we are trying to do two things at once which results in doing everything less well than if we focused on each task separately.

If you are really interested in breaking the habit of multitasking, you can try these suggestions:

  1. Make a list of no more than 5 tasks that you must accomplish in a given day.  Longer lists may make you feel overwhelmed.
  2. Pick one of those tasks and completely focus on it until it is completed. Once it is finished, go back and pick one more task, etc.
  3. Shut down your email, silence your phones and close down all social media so that you can completely focus on that activity
  4. Plan your day in blocks.  Set aside specific times for completing those important tasks.
  5. Avoid any and all interruptions.  Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to complete the original task, and makes up to 50% more errors.

For more information about the negative effects of multitasking and how to get better at managing your time, read Dave Crenshaw’s, The Myth of Multitasking. 




The 80/20 Rule

“It is not enough to be busy…the question is…what are we busy about?”
—Henry David Thoreau

The 80/20 rule is one of the most beneficial of all concepts of time management. Also known as the “Pareto Principle,” it was developed in 1895 when Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that, in his country, 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. Today the 80/20 principle can be applied to almost anything, including time management. In terms of managing our time we must realize that:

  • The majority of what we do (80%) has little impact;
  • A minority of what we do (20%) has a major impact.

Simply stated, it means that if you have a “to-do” list of ten items, two of those items will turn out to be worth more than the other eight items combined. However, those one or two of the most valuable items are often the hardest and most complex, but the pay off and the rewards for their completion can be tremendous. What we tend to do, though, is begin with the easiest—leaving the most difficult and valuable for last and then never quite getting around to working on them. Effective time managers discipline themselves to select the one or two items from their to-do list that are most valuable, allocate a block of time to work on each of them, and concentrate on getting them done, never feeling guilty about not finishing the list.

Warren Buffett summed it up when he said: “You only have to do a few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong!” In their book, The Tao of Warren Buffett, biographers Mary Buffett and David Clark state, “Warren Buffett decided early in his career that it would be impossible for him to make hundreds of right investment decisions, so he decided that he would invest in the business that he was absolutely sure of, and then bet heavily on them. He owes 90% of his wealth to just ten investments. Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

To implement the 80/20 Rule:

  • The night before, write down your top 10 priorities to do for the next day,
  • Determine which two are the most important,
  • Schedule 90 minute “appointments” with yourself, preferably in the morning, to work on each of these priorities.

The effect of this change will be profound; you will get more accomplished and feel a greater sense of pride and satisfaction for completing something valuable and significant.

Brain-Based Strategies for Outsmarting Procrastination

“One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow”

—Vincent T. Foss

As I sit here trying to write this article, my mind seems to be drifting… and then I realize—like 95% of all North Americans—I am procrastinating. Why? Is it my fault?

After reading an article by Amy Spencer, “The Science Behind Procrastination” from Real Simple, I now know that it’s not entirely my fault, because the brain is wired for procrastination. Two parts of our brain—the pre-fontal cortex and the limbic system—battle each other to either “engage on the task” or “put it off until later.”

The pre-fontal cortex is good at planning, decision-making, strategizing, etc. Unfortunately, it’s the weaker part of the brain, and not automatic. The pleasure-seeking limbic system, on the other hand, is automatic. It’s the more powerful of the two, and wants to give you immediate satisfaction.

Remember when I said it is not entirely our fault that we procrastinate? We are at fault when we do not take steps to “turn off” the procrastinator and “turn on” the frontal cortex. There are a number of things we can choose to do to keep on target.

  • If the task appears to be too complex, break it down into smaller chunks. Accomplishing these chunks will give you a feeling of success and make the other chunks easier to complete.
  • Some people believe you should do the easiest chunk first; others believe you should tackle the most difficult task first. Either way, you will have a feeling of success and accomplishment.
  • If there are too many distractions, find an “out of the way” place where you can concentrate on the task.
  • Are you an early riser who works best in the morning? Or do you do your best work in the afternoon or evening? Take advantage of your natural energy patterns by tackling the projects you find most challenging.  This will help you avoid procrastination.
  • Organize your day around large chunks of time where you can concentrate fully on the task at hand
  • Ask someone to assist you in monitoring your progress and holding you accountable for the completion of the task.

Outsmarting procrastination is just one way to manage your time better. Joe will be discussing more time management strategies in his workshop, “If Only I Had More Time…Then What?” on March 20, 2014, in Buffalo, NY.

CAYSA Training Symposium

Joe is speaking at the annual CAYSA (New York Corrections and Youth Services Association) Training Symposium on Friday, March 14, 2014 in Batavia, New York. His topic will be: “If Only I Had More Time…Then What”?

Using Lesson Design in Training and Development

I have spent over twenty-five years in some form of education; be it elementary and secondary education, higher education, and now staff and professional development.   Through-out these experiences, I have utilized a lesson planning model developed by Madeline Hunter who taught at the School of Education, UCLA.  Hunter’s model, often referred to as Instructional Theory into Practice or Lesson Design, has served me extremely well no matter on what level of education and training I have used it.  I am going to first provide an overview of this model and then, in future blogs posts, describe each aspect of the Lesson Design in hopes that you will find this model equally relevant for your training and development needs.

Before I can begin considering how to design my training experience, I must first answer the following two questions:

  1. What do I want the learner to know and be able to do?
  2. How will I know that the learner knows and is able to do it?

Planning the training event using Lesson Design:

Learning Objectives: What objectives must be met in order to declare this learning event a success?

Anticipatory Set:  How do I engage the trainees by creating an organizing framework for the ideas, principles and information that is to follow?

Input and Modeling:  For each objective, how do I provide the main concepts and skills needed to enable the trainees to learn the information and be able to do it?  How do I model the concepts and ideas?

Checking For Understanding:  For each objective, how do I determine whether the participants understand the concepts and skills presented before moving on to the next objective?

Guided Practice:  How do I provide the learner the opportunity to practice, under my direct supervision, all of the concepts and skills presented, to ensure the learners understand the skills and concepts and are able to “practice them” after the training experience has ended?

Closure:  What do I do to provide a final summary of the content and skills learned during the training activity?

Independent Practice: How do I determine whether the learners are successfully practicing the new learning on the job?

For more information about applying Lesson Design principles to your training, email us.

Hudson-Mohawk ASTD Conference, April 10, 2012

I am proud to announce that I have been selected to present at the Hudson-Mohawk ASTD 17th Annual Workplace Learning and Performance Conference on Tuesday April 10, 2012 at the Albany Marriot, Albany New York.  My topic is:  Brain Based Training that Improves Retention and Transfer of Learning.  In this session participants will discover important principles about how the brain learns and how these principles can be used to guarantee satisfied audiences, ensure optimal learning and promote transfer of learning.  Many practical, easy to use, yet powerful research based tools, techniques and strategies will be highlighted during the session.  For more information about the conference go to http://www.hudsonmohawkastd.org.