Mar 25, 2021
I have been telling myself for years that I am great at multi-tasking. Like many women, I take pride in being able to juggle many tasks at the same time.
I am sure many of you (women in particular) can relate: we believe we are incredibly efficient by simultaneously listening to a conference call, writing a few e-mails, eating our salad at our desk and putting in loads of laundry between Zoom meetings.
I thought I had been doing a good job. That is until I came across this research a few years ago . . .
Apparently almost no one is great at multitasking. What we are doing instead is "toggling our attention from task to task" – shifting our attention rapidly from one thing to another.
And this comes at a cost.
"The problem this research identifies with (multitasking) is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task.... ‘People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task,’ and the more intense the residue, the worse the performance".
Attention residue. This is a really powerful concept.
So it appears that multi-tasking is simply not possible. Although we can rapidly shift from one thing to another (diminishing our performance in both tasks!), we can’t do two things at once.
Let’s assume we get that and strive to focus on one thing at a time. Research shows that we STILL run into sub-optimal attention issues as we move from one meeting/project to another. A part of our attention is still focused on the last project. There’s a "residue" from it that diminishes our capacity to fully focus.
Cal advises: "To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes performance is deep work."