Focus on one single task at a time

Stefan van der Stigchel, Professor of cognitive psychology and author of ‘Concentration; staying focused in times of distraction’.

Technically we are able to do two things at the same time, for example talk on the phone while cooking dinner, or read email notifications while working on an Excel sheet. What we can’t do, however, is concentrate on two tasks at the same time. During any single moment, you’re either focusing on the person you’re talking with, or on the pasta sauce you’re preparing for dinner. You’re either thinking about the formulas to include in your sheet or you’re thinking about the request made of you in the incoming mail. Our brain cannot possibly concentrate on two tasks simultaneously, even if this seems technically feasible. One of these two (or more tasks) will always be at the forefront of your attention while the other will be background ‘noise’.

Multi-tasking forces your brain to switch continuously backwards and forwards between two different tasks. Every time you transition from one task to the other, you pay a mental price, called the ‘switching cost’ – the price you pay in time, attention span and efficacy for trying to do the impossible. This is true not only for switching backwards and forwards between two or more tasks in the moment, but also throughout the day. Jumping back and forth, especially when the previous task was not completed, costs you time, efficiency and productivity.

Levels of attention – Lifeguard

The myth of multitasking is that it will make you more effective. In reality, remarkable focus on one single task at a time is what makes the difference. Set your mind on one task at a time, however small it may seem, and finish it. It may look simple, but it gets the results. Multi-tasking may make you look or feel busy, but it could end up wasting a significant part of your working hours. When we’re laser focused on the work at hand, it’s easy to become fully immersed in what we’re working on and complete the task at hand.