Stop the Busy-ness and Be More Productive Part 1 Multi-tasking versus Single-tasking
Most people these days are busy – VERY busy. For women in business we’re not only dealing with the many and various jobs necessary to do our work; more often than not home and family, children and parents are competing for our attention too.
The most prevalent response to this busy-ness is multitasking, which is the perfect subject for the first in a series of posts I have lined up on busy-ness and productivity.
We’ve become a multitasking society. The constant calls for our attention, not least of which come from our devices beeping and alerting us to every email, text, and message notification that comes our way, exacerbate this and further distract us from the task (or tasks!) at hand.
Does this constant multitasking serve us? Does it help us do our best work? Be our best selves? Serve our clients, our friends, and our family to the best of our ability?
Does multitasking actually mean we are being our most productive? Our most effective or efficient?
My own experience, and everything I’ve learned about this recently, leads me to a resounding, “No!”
In this video, Dr. Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot, talks about the myth that somehow being busy equates to being important – aka productive.
In fact, multitasking actually equates to cognitive overload, which hinders productivity. It leads to loss of efficiency and error rates go up.
The idea that we can actually multitask is something of a fallacy. In reality we are just skipping around from one thing to another in quick succession. The truth of the matter, according to Carter, is that we’re more productive when we single- or uni-task. She says that “uni-tasking” may be the next “big thing” – I certainly hope so!
Single-tasking is something of a lost art, and has become surprisingly difficult for many of us these days. Before sitting down to write, Carter describes having to put her phone in another room, turn off email and Facebook notifications on her computer, as well as tending to physical needs like getting a drink, having a snack and going to the bathroom! I confess I go through a similar process when I sit down to write a blog!
Single-tasking requires being present.
One of the things that I LOVE about the Alexander Technique, is the way it requires me to bring myself to the present moment. Through Alexander I have developed a deeper AWARENESS of my self – my body, my physical environment, and my mind. The skill which underpins this, and which I teach to all my students, is the ability to PAUSE and NOTICE. I am aware more quickly of the physical cues that accompany a state of overwhelm (multitasking/cognitive overload) – a tight neck, holding my breath, general contraction and constriction in my body. It doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t help me think clearly.
I am also more likely to notice when I’m getting distracted mentally. I notice when I’m flitting from one thing to another in a way that’s counter-productive – both for me and my work! In my experience it’s actually ME that is my own biggest distraction. Awareness helps me keep on track and stay focused on a particular job, AND helps me know when it’s time to stop.
Alexander teaches us to inhabit our bodies in such a way that we can work without undue physical stress (leading to discomfort and pain). I set up my environment – the places where I work – to support that. Discomfort and pain are huge distractions, and being comfortable in our body as we work is extremely important and should not be overlooked.
I’m also a great believer in lists. I write them every day, and when I stick to it, and consciously work on one item at a time, it is not surprising that I get through the work quicker, more efficiently and effectively, and I’m more present to the task in hand.
I certainly haven’t mastered the art of single-tasking. I get distracted like anyone else. I just heard my phone beep and it took clear presence of mind (“I choose not to check my phone right now!”) to keep from looking at it. (Note to self: remember to silence phone before you start writing!)
I do know, however, the more I am able to be present to one task at a time, the work flows better, and I encourage you to include more single-tasking in the approach to your work and indeed your life. In my experience the Alexander Technique is a highly effective tool in helping us achieve this! We’ll reduce stress and be more productive while we’re at it – and maybe a little happier too :). It’s certainly what I would call body intelligence!
Do you find it hard to single-task? What’s your biggest distraction? Is the whole concept a challenge to you? And if you have experience with the Alexander Technique, how has it helped?
As usual I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comment in the space below.
Great blog. I need a reminder to be more single task minded. Much more productive
Thank you, Liz. Writing the blog has been a good reminder for me too! 🙂
So, so true Imogen. .. my husband is so good at single tasking… unable to even ask a question if he is busy… frustrating as it is we think that it is a women’s skill.. almost an expectation, something we should be able to do…ahhhh Alexander Technique is the answer.. no expectations… choice… freedom to single task ! Thanks for sharing…
Glad it resonated, Kay. I do think there are times when it is, unfortunately, necessary to switch gears quickly from one thing to another (and women probably do tend to be better at this). However minimizing how much we do this is important. Alexander Technique can help in both cases in my experience!
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Thanks for this, Imogen! I have recently been silencing everything that beeps (fb, phone…) because I find it distracts my 1 year olds from their engagement in play! Of course it totally does the same for me, but it took seeing how distracting it was from my kids’ very important “work” for me to do something about it!
That’s so interesting and insightful, Eve. We certainly do learn things about ourselves from our children! I, too, have recently reduced the number of notifications (beeps) I get on my phone – now it’s just texts and actual phone calls! It’s so much more peaceful now. 🙂