Boosting Productivity – Can We Really Multitask?

Wow…just realizing that the last I wrote was 29th May! I’m so bad at this…if I’m one of those bloggers making a living through their blog, I would have starved by now. It’s just that time really does fly. After 29th May, I had gone off on a hiking trip in Japan, then July came around and I was zombified trying to adjust to school starting again then there was National Day, Teachers’ Day, the national elections and here we are in the middle of September. If your time also has wings like mine, I’m thinking some of you must be reeling in shock that promos is merely 2 weeks away or that the JC2s will be graduating 3 weeks from now!

Which is why I guess books on boosting productivity are usually the best selling ones like Peter Bregman’s 18 minutes. One of the most common ways students try to make up for lost time is to multitask like crazy. One student once told me she listens to audio books on Geography while working on her Math equations. She figured that even if she finds it hard to do both, maybe there’s a passive osmosis effect happening and her brain will absorb the Geography stuff anyway. Maybe you don’t do something quite so insane but you find it quite common to be working on your assignments while listening to music, searching for cat videos on youtube, replying to whatsapp messages, eating Mcdonalds and shaking your leg all at the same time…or at least you think you are accomplishing them all at the same time.

In recent times, scientists have discovered that multitasking is a myth and that we humans aren’t as good at doing many things at one time as we think we are. When we think we are ‘multitasking’, we are in actual fact, switch tasking or background tasking. What this means is that when we are doing more than one thing at a time (say listening to lecture and checking instagram), our brain switches between these two tasks in a rapid fire way. Brain scientists have found that it is virtually impossible to be doing two things simultaneously with the exception of physical tasks that we find automatic (say walking and talking at the same time). The cost of constant switch tasking is that we end up spending more time on completing a task than if we were to focus on just one thing at a time. The quality of the work also suffers and we ultimately end up less productive than ever. Check out this video by Dave Crenshaw and do ‘The Myth of Multitasking Test’ to experience this for yourself!

Here’s me when I tried it out. The 2nd attempt looks like $%@ indeed. FullSizeRender

The science behind this is that similar tasks (like texting, doing assignments and listening to lectures) compete to use the same part of the brain and research shows that people can attend to only ONE cognitive task at a time. So the bottom line is this: if you want to boost your productivity, cut down on your multitasking. We might think we are saving time by multitasking, but in reality, brain science has shown that you are just wasting time and you are probably better off focusing on the task at hand singularly.

One student recently told me that she realized when she just buckles down and do her work without being distracted by her phone, youtube or music, she hammered out her math assignment real fast. Piece of cake. Something to think about. Here’s a clip from Ellen on multitasking to keep you entertained. Hopefully you won’t be watching this while doing your work. 🙂


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