If you think doing two or three things at once will save you time, think again.
Oh sure, your cerebellum can keep you walking, talking and chewing gum at the same time, but only because you have practiced these physical activities so much that they are automatic. But when it comes to doing things that require your conscious attention, multitasking is a complete myth and a huge waste of time.
The entire brain system (cortex, limbic system, cerebellum and the rest of the brain stem) may be comparable to a dual processor. After all, the cerebellum can keep you upright and coordinate the movement of your legs, arms and jaw while your cortex is focused on something else like which route to take or how to get character A to plot point D.
But the cortex on its own is a sequential processor: it does one task, then shifts attention to do the second task, then shifts attention back to the first, and so on. The cortex can focus on only one thing at a time. Activities that require focused attention cannot be done simultaneously.
When you think you’re multitasking during your morning commute by driving, putting on your makeup or shaving, changing the radio station, eating breakfast and talking on your cell, you’re really shifting your attention from task to task. When you reach for your bagel and remind yourself not to spill cream cheese on yourself, you momentarily lose track of the phone conversation, which means you have to ask the person on the other end of the call to repeat what he or she just said or hope you don’t get busted for not paying attention. Meanwhile, your limbic system is about to kick you into panic mode to bring your attention back to the fact that the idiot in front of you has just slammed on the brakes and you just missed your exit.
Every time your cortex shifts attention from one task to another, which is does every couple of seconds, you lose processing speed, accuracy and grace. That’s right, trying to multitask takes more time – as much as 50% more time in some research studies – than to focus on and complete one task before starting another. Factor in the fact that you’re as much as 50% more likely to make an error and that some multitasking-induced errors can be serious, even life-threatening, and you start to understand the true cost of multitasking.
It is simply physiologically impossible to give your writing the focused attention it requires while also attempting to check your email, tweet, update your Facebook page and revise a spreadsheet while talking on the phone and keeping one eye on dinner cooking in the next room and what the kids/puppy/cats are up to. It’s impossible, so stop trying.
This is part of why committing to writing for just 15 magic minutes is so effective – because it’s only for 15 minutes, you can envision letting go of all the other tasks and allow yourself to really focus on your writing. And isn’t the kind of focus that lets us get lost in the writing one of the biggest joys of writing? Believe me, it is a huge relief to intentionally monotask! You gotta try it.