How to Actually Practice Multitasking

Multitasking is the act of trying to achieve two or more goals at the same exact time.

Most research on multitasking tell us that is is ineffective. Often switching between two tasks divides our focus and depletes our mental resources quicker. This leads to a greater risk of making a mistake and less quality work overall.

Multitasking is especially ineffective if we are juggling between tasks that use up very similar resources in our brain.

However, there is a certain kind of multitasking called task-layering that can actually be very effective.

According to David Meyers, one of the leading researchers on multitasking: “The only time multitasking does work efficiently is when multiple simple tasks operate on entirely separate channels [in our brains].” Source

For example, it’s easy to fold your laundry while also listening to the news, because folding your laundry is a “visual-manual” task, while listening to the news is a “verbal” task.

In other words, it’s easy to do both of these activities at the same time because they operate on such different channels in our brains that there’s no overlap or distraction between them.

Here are some other examples of task-layering that are easy to integrate into your day:

  • Cleaning while talking on the phone.
  • Cooking while catching up on the news or watching kids.
  • Exercising while listening to music or a podcast.
  • Socializing while at school, work, or a business meeting.
  • Reflecting while taking a shower or commuting to work.

These examples of multitasking will give you some idea on the types of activities that we can easily do simultaneously.

Often multitasking will work best the more experience we have with something. Trying to learn an activity that is completely new will take up a lot of energy, but when we do something enough to make it into a habit, then it becomes a lot easier to do unconsciously and without much effort.

As David Meyers recommends, multitasking should involve activities that are both simple but also work on different parts of the brain.

So if you find two activities that meet this criteria, then it’s likely you’ll be able to do them together without diminishing your focus or the quality of your work.

Of course when it comes to more difficult or novel tasks, it’s probably best to focus all your energy and resources on just one thing at a time. That’s usually the optimal strategy when you’re doing serious work.

But when time is limited and you have a lot of things you want to get done, then consider this type of multitasking to really maximize your day.

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