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The ugly face of multitasking

For years, I felt very proud of my ability for multitasking. I was able to follow-up a meeting (in English, which is not my mother tongue) and write emails at the same time, to make things happen. Until I realized how exhausted I was.

I almost burnt out.

Obviously not just because of that. But this episode in my career helped me dig further in the way we use our brain and how to optimize its intrinsic capabilities, instead of forcing it to do things that it is not capable of, by design.

Think about it: our brain is our best tool. EVER. If we don’t take care of it, we are most likely to suffer.

Let’s see what is multitasking and how it can hinder ourselves. And also which strategies we can use to stay productive with a healthy brain hygiene.

What is multitasking and why it is harmful for us?

Actually, multitasking in itself is not possible. Our brain is not designed for it. When you have the perception of multitasking, you are – in reality – switching from a task to another. This switching process has a cost[i]. When you do this, your brain must change its goal focus and activate all the rules for the new task[ii]. This switching process clearly impacts our brain performance and cognitive ability.

It also increases the risk of making mistakes and your impulsivity and distractibility.

The thing is that we are sometimes multitasking without realizing it. For example, when we work while listening to music. Or when we are scrolling on social media with the TV also on. Or when we are eating in front of our computer…

We don’t feel it’s multitasking because we have repeated the tasks so many times that we are in autopilot. But still, this consumes our brain energy and, even if you don’t feel drained right now, it can have disastrous impact longer-term.

You think you felt into this multitasking trap? Fortunately, there are some strategies to reduce it.

4 tips to reduce multitasking

1. The first strategy is definitely to create this awareness for yourself.

  • When am I multitasking?
  • What makes me multitask?
  • Check the patterns and decide how you can avoid it, by being more mindful and focused on a single task.

2. Then, you can use mindfulness to train your brain to be more present in the moment and increase your attention capabilities.

3. You can also schedule your time differently. The adult’s brain seems to be efficient on a task for 1,5 to 2 hours. Then it needs rest.

  • Find the correct rhythm for you and see after how long your attention starts to decrease: it is a sign you need a break. Take these breaks: you will be much more productive after, and less prone to mistakes.
  • Observe when you have more focus during your day: is it in the morning, afternoon, evening? See how you can adapt your calendar with these preferences.

4. Stay away from distractions:

  • Switch off TV or other devices, if you are already doing something else.
  • Turn on “Do not disturb” mode.
  • Intentionally stop multitasking whenever you spot yourself in this pattern, by removing one of the tasks.

We have so much exposure to information and distraction that avoiding multitasking becomes a challenge. Hopefully enabling these tools and practicing help with a better mental hygiene.



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