Stop Multitasking and Start Multi-Tracking


One day last week I had the opportunity to make some interesting observations while on my daily walk. Because it was so cold that day, I decided to shift my walk to late afternoon. By the time I made it to the local track, there was a group of boys playing a game of pick-up football.

What I saw left me shaking my head in a bit of disbelief. Every couple of plays, about half the boys would leave the game and head to a nearby picnic table to check their smartphones. I have no idea what was so important that they felt they had to check their phone every few minutes rather than just enjoy the game, but I have a feeling it was nothing more than periodic Facebook and text message checks.

How sad that this group of boys were so distracted that they couldn’t be present in the moment. Not only were they pulling themselves out of the game to check their phones, but they left their friends standing around to wait over and over throughout the afternoon.

That’s what multitasking is like.

Too often we go through our day completely distracted, telling ourselves that we’re making more efficient use of our time through multitasking. The truth is that we’re just like those boys checking their phones every two minutes. Instead of concentrating on the task at hand, or being fully present in the moment and engaging the people around us, we’re getting less done and fostering shallow relationships in the name of multitasking.

Instead of multitasking, we should be multi-tracking.

You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy! If you told me everything that was on your task list for this week, I bet you’d say there’s more to do than you have time to get it all done. So, you’ll probably convince yourself the best way to go is attempt some multitasking and cover two or three projects at once in the hopes of clearing your list enough to not be overwhelmed and overstressed next week.

Stop the madness.

What is multi-tracking? Multi-tracking is nothing more than looking at your life and choosing to do one thing at a time. It really doesn’t matter what you choose or how you decide to give priority of one thing over another, what’s important is focus and intentionality.

I challenge you to stop multitasking for one week and see if it doesn’t improve both your work and your relationships. How?

  • Multi-tracking allows you to be fully present in the moment. You can work or spend time with someone with complete focus, giving yourself permission to cut out any and all distractions. You’re choosing to be intentional with your time rather than spitting yourself ten different ways in the hopes of getting more done.
  • Multi-tracking can be either time or task-based — whatever works best for you for the particular project to which you’re giving your attention. Instead of trying to multitask through your morning, why not choose the top three things you need to accomplish for the day and give each of them a full hour of attention before lunch? Anything left undone can be given more time in the afternoon, or you can use that time to tackle remaining tasks.
  • Multi-tracking creates margin. You can place specific limits on what you need to accomplish, as well as purposefully make time for other aspects of your life such as family, recreation, volunteerism, and more.
  • Multi-tracking also forces you to be more aware of how and where you waste time. I’m an advocate for taking regular breaks throughout your workday to do non-work things such as checking up with friends on Facebook, checking the news or latest scores — anything non-work-related that interests you and helps clear your mind and relieve stress. The problem with multitasking is that we lie to ourselves and think we can handle doing work while keeping Facebook open while also listening to our favorite sports talk show while talking on the phone with a client… It’s just not possible that any quality work is getting done in that situation.

If you’re not persuaded yet, consider this. You know how studies show that distracted driving (texting, etc.) is just as bad or worse than drunk driving? Recent research has shown that multitasking not only negatively effects attention span and memory recall — not to mention decreasing the quality of your work — but it also lowers IQ and possibly causes permanent brain damage! (Forbes 10/8/14)

Will you take the challenge to give up multitasking for a week and see how well it helps you perform? If so, please come back next week and let us know how it went, and what you learned from the experience.

In the meantime, share what you think about multitasking vs. multi-tracking in the comments.


Originally published at The Incremental Life.