I have to let you in on a secret:
I may be the worst multitasker on earth.
Seriously. You know the joke about not being able to walk and chew gum properly at the same time? That’s me. I can’t do it.
But here’s the thing. While you may be a much better multitasker than me, you’re bad at it too.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Cleveland Clinic recently had to say about multitasking:
Studies show that when our brain is constantly switching gears to bounce back and forth between tasks–especially when those tasks are complex and require our active attention–we become less efficient and more likely to make a mistake.
The crazy thing is, despite if you’re fully aware of research like this, the temptation’s still always there. It may be the inclination to check social media at a red light, the urge to respond to a message while having a conversation with your significant other.
And by giving into these temptations, you’re hurting yourself, and the people you care about.
So, how do you break the habit?
I’d like to share a simple rule that can help:
I like to call it, “the rule of focus.”
The rule of focus
The rule of focus is simple. Here’s how it works:
1. If you notice yourself trying to multitask, stop.
2. Decide which of the tasks you’re trying to care for is the highest priority.
3. Push the lesser important task(s) aside, and focus on being present with the most important task.
Well, it kind of is–once you get the hang of it. But for many people, the habit of trying to do more than one thing at the same time is so deeply ingrained that you don’t even notice it. So it takes practice to build the self-awareness you need to take step one.
Additionally, it can be difficult to stop some activities once they’ve registered. Just think of how hard it is to resist responding to a text message once you’ve read it.
There’s an easy fix for that, though. Simply address the one thing that’s distracting you as quickly as possible. For example, go ahead and respond to that one message, but then silence your notifications. If you’re engaged with another person when you get distracted, apologize and ask for a second to address the interruption so you can focus and give them your full, undivided attention.
I know what you’re thinking: Sometimes you just have to multitask.
But most of the time, trying to split your attention just means you’re doing two or three things worse than you would if you concentrated on doing them one at a time.
So, use the rule of focus to:
Be present in meetings, and focus on the colleagues right in front of you instead of the emails on your phone.
Be present when doing deep work, and focus on creating something special, instead of things that you won’t care about five minutes from now.
Be present when it comes time to respond to messages, or post something on social media, or take a call, and focus on saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
Be present in conversations with your significant other, because by focusing on them, you show that they’re your priority.
Remember that you multitask because you want to be able to do it all. But in the end, you end up not giving anything–or anyone–the attention it deserves.
So, don’t give in. Follow the rule of focus, and go all in with the most important things.