By: Naomi Matlow
It turns out that our kindergarten teachers were imparting lifelong wisdom on us when they shouted “one at a time!” and “single file!” on our way out the classroom doors as we ran out to recess. As much we like to pride ourselves on our ability to multitask in this day and age, fMRI research suggests that “when the brain tries to do two things at once, it divides and conquers, dedicating one-half of our gray matter to each task.” We have only evolved to have one prefrontal cortex, and only so much gray matter to go around at our current evolutionary juncture. Therefore, we can only successfully do one or two things at any given time. #TruthBomb
Are You Really Multitasking When You Think You Are?
Since our brains only have two hemispheres, when we attempt to take on two tasks (for example cooking and talking) our brains automatically “divide and conquer”. But two is our limit. As opposed to doubling in efficiency, our brain power splits in two. One of the neuroscientists on a recent multitasking research study for the French biomedical research agency INSERM, Etienne Koechlin, discovered, “The problem arises when you pursue three goals at the same time. Your prefrontal cortex will always discard one.” So, multitasking is only bitasking, or alternating between tasks, and even doing two task-oriented activities at once only utilizes half of our brain capacity for each.
Do You Have Too Much To Do Not To Multitask?
We feel you. But the first question we should all ask ourselves when we feel overwhelmed with tasks: are we simply busy because we’re not being productive? We should never be too busy to prioritize. Though life indeed is a marathon and not a sprint, author and human performance expert Brad Stulberg, argues that we should work toward each task that life throws at us like a sprint, as a runner would. Stulbarg argues that like an Olympic runner, “highly focused, single-task intervals allow you to exert and sustain the physical, cognitive, and emotional energy required to get the most out of what you’re doing.” The key is not to multitask but rather to put 100% of your mind, body, and soul to one thing at a time. If we treat our tasks like intervals, with nourishing breaks in between, our work may not only be completed faster and with less anguish, but probably to greater satisfaction and accuracy.
What is Your Priority? (And You Can Only Have One at a Time)
The very word “priority” burst onto the scene (the English language scene) in the 15th century. For 500 years the word never had a plural conjugation. If something was called a “priority” it was the most important thing on the to-do list. In the 20th century, some English trickster added an “-ies” and suddenly we were able to have many priorities– figuratively but not in actuality. In reality, only one task can really be at the top at any given time, and that is the inherent challenge in prioritization. But maybe that’s also a bit of a relief… if we can only have one true priority at a time, we have to be honest with ourselves about what gets that coveted spot.
If your priority is to shake up your routine, we got you covered here.