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How to break the multitasking habit (6 easy tips)

by Vidya Sury January 25, 2021 1 comment
How to break the multitasking habit

If you thought doing more than one thing at a time makes you ultra-efficient, you are wrong.

Break the multitasking habit if you want to be happy

A few weeks back, I was scheduled to meet someone for work. Besides hoping for a good outcome, I was also excited to get to know her better. I had some idea of her background and experience and naturally thought I would gain some insights into how she had gotten started and gone on to become successful. And perhaps, apply some of this new learning to what I was doing.

Well, it was a bit of a let-down. The meeting was not at all what I expected and hoped for.

Oh, sure she welcomed me into her office. The moment we settled down, with me facing her across her desk was the moment when things started to go downhill, I think. She quickly turned on her computer and started to check her email. Then she opened another browser window and was scrolling away as we were supposedly carrying on with the meeting.

How did I know? That nice L-shaped desk gave me a pretty good view of her screen. A little while later, as I walked out of her office, quite disappointed, I wondered why I had even bothered. We had barely talked. How could she when she was busy juggling so many things at once?

time to break the multitasking habit

I was sharing this with my friend who asked me how the meeting went. Seems like the woman’s rude behavior is quite common these days. In fact, these people even wear their multi-tasking habit like a badge of honor.

The sad thing is, they actually believe that the multitasking is an asset and makes them efficient and benefits their business. It is true that we have loads to do and try to balance everything at once. Why, I remember seeing “multitasking” as a USP in some people’s resume as if that makes them big achievers.

The truth is, the multitasking habit is quite counter-productive and results in major stress to those who do it. And sure enough, work quality deteriorates and the results are lousy.

Don’t Talk on the Phone and Read This at the Same Time

Now if you’re reading this while talking on the phone, I urge you not to do so! Break the multitasking habit!

Trying to manage many tasks at once may be acceptable, but that need not mean you’ll get more done. People brag about their multitasking habit and list them under their “skills”. The next time you are out having lunch, just look around. Notice how many people are busy on their phone screens while trying to stuff some food in their mouths. Their minds are in one place, they have no idea what they ate even as they mindlessly scroll that screen. Makes you wonder what happened to just enjoying your food and your company, if you have someone with you.

break the Multitasking habit

The more you try to multitask, the less you get done

In his book “The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done” Dave Crenshaw says, “People condition themselves to jump from one thing to the next — this is a direct result of thinking multitasking is a good thing (…) this soon develops into a pattern of behavior, which then turns into a habit.”


And because you can’t really do everything at once, you have to go back and forth between these tasks. Our brain has different channels for processing and if two tasks use the same channel, you’ll have to shut off one task while focusing on the other.

Take answering that phone call when you are in front of your computer screen. You’re busy talking when you see some emails come in. Some look more interesting than others. You can’t help opening one to read. And in that moment, you’ve successfully shut out the person on the phone. The right thing to do is to pause in the conversation and read your email message and then come back to the person you are talking with. You just can’t listen to or read more than one stream of language at the same time – because they use the same channel for processing – that’s how your brain is wired.

You may have one or more of the following side effects

When you switch or flip between two or more tasks, you will eventually, if not immediately suffer the negative side effects. Not only does the switching back and forth waste time, but also destroys relationships; you end up not doing the task in hand properly and find your stress levels shooting up.

The stress from multitasking depends on how much you care about how well you are doing. For those in high stress jobs, the stress levels from multitasking leads to major burnout.  Ideally, avoid multitasking, especially if you care about the quality of your work.

The thing is, people feel the need to multitask mainly because they take on more than is physically or mentally possible. Not only is this setting yourself up for failure, but adding more stress than you can handle.

It’s time to break the multi-tasking habit cycle

Human brains are not built to focus on two or more tasks at the same time. In today’s world, we have phones that constantly notify us of what’s happening; computers that ding every time there’s a new email or meeting. We are bombarded from all sides with things that require our attention immediately—not to mention the other humans that need our attention. Often, it is difficult to manage and figure out which to tackle first. If we attempt to do more than one thing at a time, we give less of ourselves.

Do you suffer from the multitasking trap?

If you answered yes, you have likely experienced one or more of the side effects I mentioned above. But you can break the cycle and avoid the havoc it creates in your life.

All it takes is some self-discipline to effectively break the multitasking habit and bring back peace, calm, efficiency and accuracy to your work and personal life.

In his book, Crenshaw describes the loss from multitasking as “switching cost.” You can eliminate that “switching cost” by facing the person you’re speaking to, by looking her in the eye and by actually paying attention to what she is saying. At that point, you’ll not only endear her to you, but you’ll build a relationship that will last even when e-mail is a thing of the past.

6 tips to break the multitasking habit

How to Break the Multitasking Habit in 6 easy steps

It is possible to break the multi-tasking habit with a few simple steps and get back your life. All you have to do is put down that phone, turn off your computer and do the following:

1.     Get rid of some of your tasks

If you are overloading yourself with more tasks than you can possibly handle, start by taking a look at what is most important. Then, get rid of the rest. Maybe you have to do the unthinkable – say NO to requests of your time, but in the long run you’ll be really glad you did.

2.     Control technology

Rather than let technology control you, take control of technology. Shut down those notifications and beeps. Create some silence. Turn off audible reminders for your email and other electronic devices.

3.     Focus on one thing at a time

Of course, you will resist at first, but you will soon notice that when you break the multitasking habit, you are able to connect better with people, tasks and values that mean more to you. Focus on the person. Given the choice between technology and a person you value, always choose the person. People WILL always rule over technology.

4.     Know your limitations

Have you seen the movie Dirty Harry starring Clint Eastwood? He drawls, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Gold-plated advice to break the multitasking habit. Know your limitations and accept them. If you don’t, it will be worse than shooting yourself in the foot.

5.     Set aside time to do what is most important

Schedule only what you can schedule. Learn to prioritize. Give your full attention only to the most important tasks for the day. I do this by making to-do lists to keep me focused. This means set aside specific times during the day to respond to e-mail and voice mail. Let people know you are busy and cannot be disturbed. I do this by wearing a pair of headphones to make it clear.

Read: What is time-boxing

6.     Schedule breaks for yourself

Get up once every hour to stretch, drink water, or grab some coffee. No, don’t check your phone or email. Do that only during the scheduled times.

When you break the multitasking habit, you’ll feel refreshed, happier and more enthusiastic to tackle what you have to.

Do you struggle to break the multitasking habit?

How do you manage?

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1 comment

Ajay Kalva January 29, 2021 at 1:29 pm

Good recommendations though it is quite difficult to practice them,
Needs great concentration and focus to implement
Ajay Kalva recently posted…Design Calculations of Pitch Blade Turbine

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