We’re living in a world where almost everyone you speak to is busy with an important project, task, or long to-do list.
But many are having trouble getting ahead. Claiming extremely long workdays, many say they have no time for self-care or to work out, no time for fun, and just ‘can’t do’ relationships due to – you guessed it – lack of time. But they’re actually not doing anything but working here and there while they surf the web, check email, and update social media, or text with friends.
So what are they actually doing that is causing them to not enjoy life or be as productive as they would like to think they are?
Coined in 1965 to describe the capabilities of an IBM computer, multitasking is the commonly used term to describe when a person simultaneously performs multiple tasks. But multitasking, as we know it, is a myth. The truth is that our brains can’t actually perform multiple tasks at the same time. In fact, if we are performing more than one task, each new task requires our brain to ‘switch’. Doing multiple tasks necessities for the brain to shut off from one task and turn back on to begin another. While we may believe we are flowing seamlessly from task to task and slaying our ‘To-Do’ lists, we are actually taxing our brains. And, we’re making mistakes while we do it that are costing us – big time.
Multitasking Causes Errors
Multitasking of any kind reduces productivity as well as increases the rate of errors – and we’ve known this for years. According to a study done in 2008 in the United States, more than $650 billion a year in productivity is lost because of unnecessary interruptions – that cost comes primarily from the time it takes people to recover from an interruption (the ‘shut down’) and get back to work (‘the switch on’).
In terms of lost time, a person who checks their email every 5 minutes needs almost an entire minutes to recover from the ‘switch’, and will lose a total of 90 minutes of productive time over an 8 hour workday as their brain refocuses from interruption. And that’s just from looking at email. That doesn’t factor in checking social media sites, answering texts, or phone calls. The tech industry has been consumed by the negative effect of using their advances (or as they call it: ‘eating their own dog food’) in regards to productivity for years. After all, they’re creating the online tools that we’re using to ‘manage’ our time and projects. But, in the mid 2000’s, Intel did an eight-month internal study that found employees who were encouraged to limit digital interruptions said they were more productive and creative as a result.
We have more information at our fingertips and more ways to access it than ever before. We sit at our computers, or stare at our phones, because we’ve convinced ourselves that constantly, connecting, responding, and researching is working. Just like information is not knowledge, doing doesn’t necessarily result in getting anything done. Sure, you can spend all day with your face in your computer or phone screen. But, when the evening comes, do you have anything to show for it?
If you’ve got a big goal or vision for your life and you’re finding that you’re not getting closer, it may be time to drop the myth of multitasking. According to Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, Dr. Cal Newport, the true path to achievement and mastery is Deep Work.
Deep Work is described by Newport as any professional activity performed in a state of distraction free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to the limit. Deep work is the opportunity to tune out the world, tune into a task, and utilize a set block of time to achieve mastery.
So why aren’t more of us doing it?
Because we have been trained out of it. Anyone living and working in the twenty-first century is well aware of the abundance of distractions and the frantic pace that life takes on. We’ve come to believe that keeping our Facebook page up to date is imperative, that we must stay on top of our email above anything else, and that running Instagram ads for a new business will almost surely bring us new, devoted clients. These tasks may be keeping us busy, but they aren’t getting us closer to success.
When you have a big mission, vision, and purpose, doing Deep Work is crucial. To do Deep Work, we need to retool our brains through new habits, and establish a cognitive surplus. But how do we do this? Dr. Newport makes some very simple suggestions for changing the way we work – and think.
Deep Work has four core components: work deeply, embrace boredom, quit social media, and drain the shallows. Working deeply means not only giving your entire focus to your work, avoiding all distractions like email and social media, but giving your mind and body what you need to commit to a predetermined amount of time, including nutrition. Embracing boredom allows for the fact that our culture has actually embraced distraction. But instead of constantly giving in to that distraction, we can schedule time for it, “rewiring your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.”
Quitting social media is challenging for many of us. The illusion of being constantly connected has created a vortex in which we pour hours of time down a hole that rarely gives back in real life. Newport is fully aware that the Internet is an integrated part of our lives. But using social media as entertainment and a replacement for actual relationship leads to less fulfillment than focused work and real life interaction, overall. Finally, draining the shallows means scheduling everything in your day. By setting up and adhering to a structure, you not only have time for both work and distraction, but you’ll know exactly how much time you’re spending on mundane tasks (like answering emails unnecessarily) that suck energy from your overall goals.
As you read this, you can probably relate to much of what is described, while imagining what an impact making these simple changes could have on your output. Moving away from multitasking may seem challenging, but the results are worth it. After all, we’re not here on this planet to fritter away our time on Facebook. As we slow down, quiet our minds and focus intently on what really matters, we can make time – to feel deep love, experience deep joy, and live a deep life. After all, that’s what success is really all about.