Many people claim that they are good multi-taskers, but that is rarely true. Instead, most people are very poor multi-taskers because our brains are only developed to handle one task at a time. As a result, most people are better single-taskers.
Still, you might be wondering if there is ever a time to multi-task. The answer is nuanced. Let’s jump into the question now.
When You Should Multi-Task
Multi-tasking is theoretically when you handle multiple tasks or skills at once. According to most experts, however, there is no such thing as multi-tasking. We can only do one thing at once. As a result, most people are serial taskers, not multi-taskers.
Serial tasking is when you jump from task to task in rapid order. So, you might type part of a work email, switch to reading your phone, and then go back to the email. In this example, you did not do the tasks simultaneously, nor did you complete them at the same time.
There are sometimes when we do multi-task, however. For example, you may drive your car and sing along to a song at the same time. A more productive form of multi-tasking would be listening to an audiobook while driving. You can multi-task in this sort of scenario because driving and listening are both automatic abilities. In other words, you can do them on autopilot.
For any tasks that cannot be done on autopilot, multi-tasking is not the most productive technique. Multi-tasking only makes your brain jump from task to task, causing you to do all of your assignments poorly and haphazardly.
When You Should Single-Task
Since you can multi-task on autopilot but not when you have to think about what you’re doing, you should single-task whenever the activity requires your attention and intentional effort. Single-tasking during these times will allow you to be more productive and focused, as well as benefit your performance.
Given that most activities we do require intention, you should be single-tasking throughout most of your life. Though this may sound exhausting at first, your physical and mental well-being, as well as your productivity, will improve dramatically when you switch from a multi-tasking way of life to a single-tasking one.
Let’s take a closer look at single-tasking. Let’s say you have multiple assignments coming up at work. Instead of trying to juggle all the tasks at once, take them one by one. Create a priority list to know which items you want to complete first. Many people recommend starting with the assignment you want to do the least. This will make all the following assignments go much smoother.
Once you make your priority list, start doing all of the items one at a time. Do not move on to the next task until the one you are currently working on is completely finished. Make sure to take breaks between each task to keep you energized and upbeat.
All around, you should single-task way more often than you multi-task. Anytime you are at work or doing anything of importance, you should be focusing on one task at a time so as to make the most of your brain’s power. The only time you should be multi-tasking is when you are on autopilot, which rarely happens.