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Can you do many things at once?

I have never been good at multi-tasking. When I joined Fenwick Software (seems like a lifetime ago) I used to get so focused on my task that I wouldn’t even hear the lunch train whistle (or any other conversation for that matter). Initially, my colleagues were surprised that I wasn’t being social but then they realised that when I am working, everything else disappears and it has nothing to do with my social skills.

There have been several theories about whether single-tasking is better than multi-tasking.

According to an article published in Harvard Business Review, multi-tasking has proven to be less productive. The more that workers switch, the less they accomplish. Looking at the MRI’s of the brains of people multi-tasking, it is clear that the brain doesn’t really do two things at once. It just switches focus from one to the other. When it does switch, there is always a lag time required to recapture information and establish the current state.

If we imagine what our lives are like at work, it is quite hard to not be interrupted by colleagues, meetings and customer requests. However, with persuasion and respect, you could aim to keep these distractions short then get on to them once the task at hand is completed.

There was a time in my life when I was working full time, doing a part time MBA and was trying to have a social life as well. Initially, it was very hard to be with friends because all I could think about was the deadline for an assignment. This challenge taught me to schedule and prioritise. I used to lock in time for study, for fun, and for work. This significantly reduced my “task deadline” stress and I was able to be in the moment and enjoy what I was doing fully.

At the end of it, I think single-tasking is about being present and fully immersed and when you do, your ability to discern increases dramatically. Mindfulness experts and many spiritual gurus place a great emphasis on “presence”; suggestions like “smell your apple, slowly chew and feel the taste with every bite” are examples of doing one thing at a time and fully focusing on it.

So how’s the level of your presence in your day-to-day activities? Do you frantically run from one activity to the next and get interrupted a myriad of times? How does that change your level of productivity and stress?

If you are curious, you may want to check out Heartmath Institute‘s website. They have many apps that will help you monitor the physiological responses in your body and you can determine scientifically whether you are stressed or calm; whether you are productive or scattered.

Once you know, you have the choice to do something about it.

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