Multitasking with mindfulness

In an increasingly hectic and high-demand world we feel like we have to multitask to even keep our nose above water. We have so many tasks, big and small, that it feels impossible to get them all done one at a time.

What is multitasking?

Multitasking is the act of doing more than one thing at a time. Sometimes directly, like answering a text while driving. Sometimes it’s done more indirectly, like when we work on a project but keep checking our e-mails or switch our attention to talking with a college about something else entirely.
Most of us multitask without even thinking about it. Ever checked your socials while also watching Netflix? Studies has found that people that often exhibit this sort of behavior has a harder time with attention when doing single tasks as well [^1]. The same study also states that most of us also think we are better at multitasking than we truly are.

Why is it bad?

Again and again it’s established that multitasking is not a productive way to work. But why? When we multitask we are not giving any of the tasks at hand all our attention. This might make us less effective. This is since the tasks take longer than they would have if done separately. It also increases the risks of making mistakes. When it comes to texting and driving those mistakes can even be fatal. In 2020 in Great Britain, 499 people were injured and 17 died in accidents where the driver was on their phone while driving ^2.

How do I do multitasking?

Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day to work smart. I have so much I want to do that I sometimes need to do more than one thing at a time. So how do I do this? First of all I chose my tasks wisely. I have some tasks that do not need as much cognitive power than others. I also try to mitigate the downsides of multitasking by staying mindful. As I do try and time block, I have one block that is basically multitasking. This is a block where I try to do low cognition tasks and combine them as I see fit.

Chose your multitasking tasks carefully

Things like doing animated shorts in Canva for instance is an easy task to combine with something else. I have a folder of ideas, scripts and assets so it’s more of just putting the pieces together. Often I combine this with listening to YouTube videos that I find are mid-level. Those are the ones that doesn’t need my full attention but where I might pick up ideas or learn something new. Since Canva is low cognition it doesn’t suffer if the video takes more of my attention or if I tab away to write something down. But multitasking is not just doing two different things at the same time, it’s also switching between tasks. A few ways I multitask here is going through old notes and fixing stuff with the attitude of being free to go investigate some new idea that might pop up. This might lead to writing more notes, adding stuff to Todoist or starting up a draft. I only do very rough drafts in this mode.

Always double check your work

Multitasking may make us more prone to make mistakes. When I chose tasks to multitask with I don’t chose tasks that I won’t have time to or are unable to edit later. By this I mean that when I’m in multitask mode I don’t answer any e-mails or text-messages that are mid to high level of importance. When I say editing I mean proper editing. Going over an e-mail an extra time before sending it to see if I made any spelling mistakes is not the same. When your cognition is fragmented it might not pick up on what you need. You might completely miss the misspelled word you’re watching out for.

Have a shutdown ritual

When my block of multitasking is complete I try and do some sort of reset. I try to summarize what I’ve done during the block to maximize the feeling of task completion. Then, if I have the time, I try to spend a minute or two just sitting. Some might call this mindful meditation, some might call it staring out over your messy office and wonder how long that cup of coffee has been there cause it sure isn’t the mug you came into the office with. But I try to leave some space for my brain to just do its own thing without me doing any poking and prodding.


[^1]: Madore KP, Wagner AD. Multicosts of Multitasking. Cerebrum. 2019 Apr 1;2019:cer-04-19. PMID: 32206165; PMCID: PMC7075496.

[^2]: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/seatbelt-and-mobile-phone-use-surveys-2021/mobile-phone-use-by-drivers-great-britain-2021#how-to-search

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