Let’s tackle the big evil: multitasking

Just a couple of days ago, I read an interesting article in the Event Manager Blog. It lists out 7 common traits of a great event planner and though there are many good points, there is a particular part that takes my most attention. At one point, the author takes emphasis on the important effect of multitasking on event planners, states:

Multitasking is an unavoidable element of event planning, and those who don’t “thrive under pressure” are probably going to struggle.”

“Even if you are involved with planning a dinner with friends, tasks will include collecting RSVPs, arranging food and drinks, selecting the music for the night, etc, Most of the times you will find yourself doing few of the above at the same time.”

I did a little research on the matter and turns out, the result does us, planners, a little favor than we expect.

Research by neuroscientists in MIT demonstrates that while we think we can easily divide our attention between several tasks at one, our brains just simply don’t function that way “they’re actually switching from one task to another very rapidly. And there is a cognitive cost in doing so”, explained Dr. Earl Miller.

A study conducted by scientists in London shows that constant switching multiple tasks at once can reduce our effective IQ by 10 points. Furthermore, neuroscientists at Stanford University found out that multitasking during a convoluted process, which requires the manipulation of information, the learning information may go to the wrong part of the brain.

For example, If students study and watch TV at the same time, for example, the information from their schoolwork goes into the striatum, a region specialized for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and ideas. Without the distraction of TV, the information goes into the hippocampus, where it is organized and categorized in a variety of ways, making it easier to retrieve.

Another consequence of multitasking is that the production of the stress hormone cortisol is found higher in people who often multitask, which can overstimulate the brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Also, multitasking creates a dopamine addiction feedback loop, which rewards the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. That explains why we have the urge to check our phone whenever it’s possible, even when we are surrounded in a sociable context.

To make it short, Dr.Earl Miller concluded:

“ People can’t do [multitasking] very well, and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.”

The greatest multitasker I’ve seen in my life is definitely my mom. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder where she’s got the ability to cook for the whole family, vacuum the whole house, and smack me and my brother’s heads while we were fighting. All in reflectively little interval time.

Researchers find out that 2% of people have the amazing ability of multitasking, meaning they can juggle without dropping a ball. For the majority 98% of us, for certain kind of tasks, due to the fact that we regularly do them with little or no consciousness, our brains are able to memorize and make these tasks semi-automatically. In order to do so, these tasks have to satisfy two requirements:

1- They do not conflict in their needs. For example, you can talk on the phone while walking on the street but you can’t talk on the phone and tie your shoes at the same time because you need 2 hands for that task (well, at least for most of us)

2- They both require a low level of cognitive attention. For example, you can’t (and shouldn’t) text and drive at the same time because both tasks require a high level of attention to details.

Source: wrike.com

So, instead of including “multitasking as handling several tasks at the same time” in every job post, we can improve our performance and focus on training our brain to seamlessly switch our focus from one task to another. That process calls context switching and it can be trained. Here are some tips for you to practice context switching at work or at home.

1. Prioritize the tasks

There are so many tips out there to show you how to prioritize the tasks before you actually begin doing something. Personally, I found the Effort-Impact method from Hubspot is genuinely effective.

Firstly, write down all your tasks and rank them on both How many Efforts you are going to put on this task and How big the Impact is on your objectives. Then, you can plot each task into the quadrant below:

Source: Hubspot

Beginning with the low Effort, and High Impact task helps us to build up the momentum earlier in the day, then we continue with the high impact, high effort tasks.

Here is my example of the Effort-Impact list I made for a day at meeting package.

2. Break down big tasks into smaller chunks

A study by Microsoft revealed that human attention span has dropped to 8 seconds thanks to our obsession with portable devices, meanwhile, a goldfish has the attention span of 9 seconds.

Because we are so easy to get distracted, digesting a giant task surely does no favor in increasing the productivity. Thus, break down a big task into small chunks will help the tasks less daunting and actually make the starting process easier.

3. Meditate

Look out, meditation lovers are taking over the world.

There is no doubt that meditation has gone mainstream, plenty of people have used the technique to achieve a peace state of mind and greater self-awareness. Reports show that almost all Google employees do meditation.

In fact, there are proofs of the advantages that meditation brings to busy event and meeting planners. Studies show that meditation training can help curb our tendency to distraction, strengthening our ability to stay focused and even boosting memory.

Meditation builds resilience. Multiple research studies have shown that meditation has the potential to decrease anxiety, thereby potentially boosting resilience and performance under stress

Next time, try to turn off all your devices, no emails, no Facebook, no music, just sit down for 30 minutes. And then, Ommmmm.

Source: wrike.com

Do you want to see more productivity tips for your meeting? Read these 7 Rules for Effective Meetings










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The World first and largest selection of meeting packages, designed for event planners. Weekly blog posts out every Thursday.