You need to stop doing this thing

It seems to me that there is an obsession in the world these days with being busy and successful and accomplishing lots of things. And that there’s some kind of rite of passage for entrepreneurs to have spent a period of their lives working 80 hours a week and had years go by without a single holiday and other such dangerous habits, in order to achieve financial goals or a certain level of fame and popularity.

(Personally, I can think of nothing worse than spending all my time focusing on work and nothing else. Life is multi-faceted and rich with choices and no matter how much I love my job, I have other stuff I want to do too, and limited time in which to do it! Also there is a lot to be said for being the tortoise, not the hare.) Alongside this obsession with being busy is the commonly praised skill of multi-tasking.

I used to be so proud of the fact that I could do 5 things at once. Until I learnt some things about time management and productivity, and began to track my habits. Resulting in the realisation that I was doing it all wrong. I didn’t stop multi-tasking because I was bad at it. The opposite: I was a multi- tasking queen! I likened it to working as a chef (which I did for a while), but with slightly lower stakes. I could take a phone call from a potential client while editing and exporting photos, and while booking them in I could also reply to an SMS that came through. I could flick between designing marketing collateral, my CRM, emails, accounting software and back again, checking facebook multiple times with 10 apps open and 46 tabs in my browser. I mean, the more you can do, the more you get done, right?

So wrong. You can go on like that for days and never get through the important big jobs that take a few hours each. And not only that, but you probably made a bunch of mistakes that you weren’t aware of and you won’t remember half of what you did or where you got up to. If I catch myself accidentally multi-tasking these days, I also notice that my shoulders are tense, I’m clenching my jaw, I’m shallow breathing and I’m probably holding in a wee. Multi-tasking is like managing a piece of office equipment that photocopies, prints, binds, laminates, scans, emails and makes you coffee. It might do a pretty good job of some of the most basic tasks, but the high level ones will be average at best and it’s very likely to malfunction way more frequently than a simple machine that only does one or two things. Our brains aren’t supposed to work like that. Mistakes aside, you get tired more quickly. It’s harder than doing things one at a time. And despite the fact that life sometimes make you think it’s beneficial to do the ‘hard yards’, harder isn’t better! Harder is just harder.

Studies have actually shown that multi-tasking can interrupt your brain’s ability to create short-term memory. And I don’t need scientific evidence to know that it’s causing extra stress and anxiety because I can feel that in my own body—but just in case you don’t believe me, there have been studies done in that too! There have even been studies ( 09/uos-bsr092314.php) that have linked the simultaneous use of multiple media devices to a decrease in brain density in the part of our brain that is responsible for cognitive and emotional control functions! So quit the multi-tasking, and quit glorifying the ability to do it as a desirable and important skill. Instead, spend your time learning how to prioritise and be more productive. Time-blocking, planning and organisational strategy are far more valuable skills.

The only multi-tasking I do these days is scrolling Facebook while enjoying a coffee, or cooking dinner while shouting at my teenager. And that’s quite enough thank you very much. If you currently have a multi-tasking habit and you quit it, you will find that you suddenly notice just how challenging multi-tasking is, and just how wonderful it is to give it all your attention to one thing at a time. Like before you had kids and you could go and do a number two without being interrupted. Bring back those days.