While there have been numerous studies conducted, articles published and books written about the downsides of multitasking, there’s one major downside that directly impacts our ability to achieve anything of great significance. It inhibits your ability to get into flow.
Significant accomplishments and flow are birds of a feather. You can’t experience one without the other.
The Curse of Multitasking
If you’ve ever had a day when you do something like the following:
- Check email
- Check Facebook
- Check twitter
- Attempt to do deep work
- Give up and clean your desk
- Rinse, wash, repeat
You know how difficult it gets to just sit down and do anything for an extended period of time. Try the following experiment. Do everything I mentioned above. Then try to read 10 pages of a book. Chances are you will have a hard time staying focused.
Recently I was visiting a friend from college. He confessed to me that he’s become quite addicted to his smartphone. He checks email more times a day than he can remember. If there’s no email received, he reads the ones he’s sent. Some of this is actual work but a good amount of it is not. And he’s doing extremely well at his job. But the real damage it’s doing is to his attention span. He has a hard time reading more than a few pages of a book at a time.
The most insidious thing about multitasking is that it feels good. Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project says that a full day of multi-tasking is a bit like doing a ton of cocaine. It might feel good while you’re doing it, but you’ll probably feel like shit afterward.
Multitasking gradually destroys your ability to focus and since flow follows focus, multitasking inhibits your ability to get into flow.
The Impact of Focus
Flow follows focus. The state can only show up when all our attention is focused in the right here, right now. Evolution shaped what we now know of as 20, there are probably more, but we know of 20 triggers. These are things that drive attention into the present moment. People who have extremely high flow lives have built their lives around these triggers. The funny thing about them is that none are complicated and none are super sexy. They’re all really unbelievably obvious and underwhelming on a certain level. And you know all of these things because your body is hardwired for flow, it’s hardwired to move in the direction of peak performance. — Steven Kotler
Most of my experience with flow comes from being a surfer. Dropping into a wave is an experience that forces focus and forces you into the moment. It’s a completely immersive experience in which there is nothing on your mind other than exactly what you’re doing. I can pinpoint almost every wave that I’ve wiped out on to a lack of presence. If I’m paddling for a wave, and I allow myself to dwell on the past or worry about the future, I end up eating shit every time.
If you’re completely focused on one thing, you’ll not only be able to do that thing faster, but the quality of the work will be significantly higher. I’ve experienced this in nearly every aspect of the work that I do.
- I’ve experienced it in writing books
- I’ve experienced it while speaking
- I’ve experienced it while doing busywork like editing podcasts and making changes to our web site
Try a one-hour focus block, or one hour of uninterrupted creation time. What you’ll see is that there’s a certain point in which you move from struggling to one in which everything becomes easy. That’s’ when you know you’ve hit flow. The longer you can sustain your focus, the deeper the state of flow you will experience.
Focus goes beyond getting things done. It’s also something that can impact every area of your life and business.
Take the idea that measurement improves performance. Why does this happen? Because you’re focused on a particular aspect of your performance. As Brian Tracy said, “there’s a rule in psychology if you focus on a number, that number improves.”
Things that Throw You out of Flow
As I’m sitting here typing this, I know that my distraction block of one hour is almost up. I’ll be able to hop on twitter, check email, check Facebook, etc, etc. But I also know from previous experience that you should never stop working on something the moment you hit flow. If I decide to stop working, I’ll be thrown out of flow. Sources of distraction and the temptation to multitask will throw you out of flow and the clock to get back into that state starts all over again.
Sidenote: During this writing session, I ended up writing more than 1400 words in about 40 minutes. Out of a flow state, it would not only take longer, I’d be struggling the whole time.
Listen to Our Interview With Steven Kotler
Flow seems to be the optimal state of consciousness the one that we as human beings not only thrive in, but crave at the depth who we are. In a state of flow, guided by an inner compass is where the greatest work of our life happens. That’s high price to pay so you can multitask
I’m the author of Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best (Available for Pre-Order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble). Each Sunday we share the most unmistakable parts of the internet that we have discovered in The Sunday Quiver. *Receive our next issue and learn more about book pre-order bonuses by signing up here.