The myth of multitasking or “5 tips for a better concentration”

Those who think they are capable of it like to boast about it.

Men are probably less good at it than women (at least that’s what I’ve heard 🙂 )

And actually, it’s part of every job description these days.

Multitasking.

Certainly one of the 21st century’s not-so-much-loved words.

If you now shout “Yes! Exactly! I do it all the time! I’m really good at it!!” I have to disappoint you.

Why? Well. Multitasking does not exist.

In fact, we can only switch back and forth between activities very quickly. However, we can never do two demanding tasks at the same time.

Multitasking is a myth

This is scientifically proven. Every second, thousands and thousands of sensory stimuli find their way into our brain. The processing capacity of the brain is about 120 bits per second. If we just  listen to our colleague when she tells us about her last vacation, this already consumes about 60 bits per second. If we write “just a quick email…” and perhaps think about dinner, our brain is already hopelessly overwhelmed.

And what happens then?

We begin to overlook, overhear, forget important things.

The sensory overload leads to a failure of information processing. If we try to do several things at the same time, and if too many stimuli affect us in too fast a sequence, our brain simply ignores a part of the perceived environment.

Even if we feel incredibly productive, we need on average 50% longer (!!) to deal with the various tasks. AND: we even make more mistakes.

Mono- instead of multitasking

So here and now I would like to invite you to simply STOP trying to multitask.

Take one step after the other.

Take a breath.

Focus on the task ahead. Not the next and the next. Only one.

And: don’t let yourself be distracted.

How this can work, I have summarised here in 5 tips for better concentration:

  1. Avoid distractions: optimise your environment. How quiet is your workplace? What’s on the table? Avoid disorderly and distracting structures. If you need to concentrate, find a quiet place, ask colleagues not to interrupt you for an hour. Put your phone away, turn off email notifications.
  2. Work actively: we can usually concentrate longer if our learning is linked to an activity. So take notes in the form of graphics, mind maps, use creative material, mark important things with a colourful pen. Work while standing up. Turn the next meeting into a joint walk.
  3. Use routines: it also helps to automate as much as possible and to trust our intuition. This will reduce the stress on the prefontal cortex and working memory.
  4. Avoid disturbing technology: get away with your mobile phone (the sight of the phone already distracts you!). Switch off notification functions. Even if it’s just a small dot at the bottom right of the screen. This can also rob you of your valuable concentration.
  5. Take a break: if you notice that your concentration is decreasing, it’s time for a break. Go get fresh air, look out of the window, breathe deeply, move. Or: go home! 🙂

I wish you the space and time to focus on the essential, to find moments of peace, and to enjoy this dark and yet so brightly shining time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Your Birgit