Why You Should Stop Multi-Tasking and Start Prioritising

Do ever find yourself overwhelmed with a million things to do and find yourself multi-tasking? Or do you wish you could?

Until last week, I would have said that I’m a pro at multi-tasking.

Last Wednesday for example, I happened to have a particularly busy day. I’d been running a training session from 9 am until 2 pm.

On the way home I stopped to do a week’s shopping at the local supermarket before returning home to put the shopping away and walk the dog.

The dog seemed super excited to see me as usual and hounded me (excuse the pun) whilst I tried to put the shopping away.

The solution appeared to be throwing her ball for her to fetch whilst I put the food away. Definitely multi-tasking.

Then realising I had only 45 minutes before a Skype call with a coaching client, I decided to think outside of the box.

Whipping up a ham and cheese baguette I stepped outside to walk the dog and eat.

Seeing my husband’s bike leaning against the wall, I decided it would save me time to cycle.

Feeling proud of my multi-tasking idea, I jumped on the bike with my baguette. The dog followed.

Fortunately, we live on a farm and are lucky to be surrounded by many fields.

Cycling through a particularly bumpy field, I lost the ham. The dog found it.

Cycling up a hill became challenging whilst eating the rest of the baguette and I wondered if I was being a little ridiculous.

The dog decided to save me by jumping up and taking the rest of my lunch.

Getting to the top of the hill, I decided to free-wheel back down.

Unfortunately, my hands were covered in mayonnaise by this point and kept slipping off the brakes.

Deciding that my multi-tasking wasn’t a great idea, I got off the bike and walked back home.

The reason that my multi-tasking didn’t really work, is because multi-tasking is not actually possible.

Recent research at Princeton University has shown that the feeling of attending to more than one thing at a time is a delusion.

Our brains cannot stay fully engaged with more than one process.

What actually happens is that our brain rapidly switches from one task to another.

We don’t actually multitask.

Even when we feel that we are concentrating on just one thing, our attention disengages several times a second. During this time, our brain is checking that nothing super important is happening elsewhere.

If we were totally absorbed in a task without the ability to do this, we could potentially experience danger. We would want to hear a lion approach, or an intruder breaking into our home.

Our protection is our brains priority.

As a result of this disengagement, we experience split-second gaps in our focus.

When we attempt to multi-task, the gaps get so big that we find it impossible to do any of the tasks well. As I’d recently proven.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with a long list of to-do’s, then I’d recommend ditching the thought of multi-tasking and replace it with prioritising instead.

Here are my 3 top tips to do just that:

  • Write a list of all of the things that you need to do. Number them in order of importance. ‘1’ is of low importance, ‘10’ is of high importance. Start the tasks with the highest numbers first. Any not accomplished simply carry over onto a list that you start the next day.
  • Cut yourself some slack. If the ironing stays in the basket for a couple more days nothing bad will happen. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by so many jobs but so many of them don’t really matter.
  • Prioritise yourself. Ask for help. If you have family members then ask them to help you. If you have children, you may be aware that telling them to do chores isn’t always effective! Explaining why you need some help will enable them to understand. They will then be more likely to help!

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