Allow me to get right to the point. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone face to face and right in the middle of your sentence their cell phone chirps with a text and they immediately pick up their phone and begin reading it?

Have you ever been on the phone talking with someone and they have asked you a question which you begin to answer then you hear the “tap-tap-tap” of their keyboard… as you finish your reply followed by silence because they weren’t listening to what you had to say?

Were you invited to attend an important meeting and asked to bring information that you just spent hours preparing. As you begin delivering the presentation the majority of people in the room are looking down at their devices and are clueless about what you just delivered?

Here is the real kicker. Have you been out on a date with someone, (you know, that “special time” to be with each other) and because you are both so addicted to technology, you both spend more time interacting with texts, Facebook posts, Tweets and emails than you do actually holding hands and talking to one another? How about the example you’re teaching your children? Do they get your undivided attention? What are we teaching them and saying to others when we demonstrate this behavior?

In my opinion, we have been duped into thinking we are super successful because we can multitask. Yet, the experts tell us quite the opposite is true.

Here is proof from several scientific studies:

David Meyer, Cognitive Scientist, University of Michigan writes… “when you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it.” According to the article published by Entrepreneur, “The Truth About Multitasking: How Your Brain Processes Information,” Meyer’s work has helped demonstrate that humans have distinct bandwidth challenges, which can make multitasking problematic. It turns out the brain’s ability to process information is limited, from processing channels to limits on data volume, velocity and working memory.

At BrainFacts.org in the article “The Multitasking Mind,” author Summer Allen writes, “Whenever you need to pay attention, an area toward the front of the brain called the prefrontal cortex springs to action… while the right and left sides of the prefrontal cortex work together when focused on a single task, the sides work independently when people attempt to perform two tasks at once. In a study conducted by scientists at the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in Paris, the findings suggest that when there are two concurrent goals the brain divides in half… when asked to attempt yet another task, they found that participants regularly forgot one of the three tasks.”

According to San Francisco neurologist Adam Gazzaley, University of California, “while studies show multitasking compromises working memory… anecdotal evidence suggests multitasking is harder on older adults. In NPR’s Research News article, “Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again,” by Jon Hamilton; “It’s all part of life these days. We answer emails while yapping on the phone. We schedule appointments while driving and listening to the radio. And it seems as if we’re focusing on all these tasks simultaneously, as if we’ve become true masters of doing 10 things at once.”

But, brain researchers say, that’s not really the case. Neuroscientist Earl Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

Here is the worst part. It’s an addiction. In fact when you decide to take steps to lay down the electronic devices so you can focus on the one important person or project at hand – don’t be surprised at how difficult it can be.

What is the solution?

  1. Decide, based on scientific research, that multitasking is limiting you in every area of your life. Commit to taking action steps to change your behavior because your performance and the people in your life deserve your undivided attention.
  2. Schedule specific blocks of time in your calendar for what you want to accomplish and be prepared to say “no” to distractions, interruptions and set aside or turn off your electronic devices. For example, schedule time for your emails and set an alarm with a start and stop notice if you find yourself running over on the time scheduled. Be intentional about setting your priorities and sticking to them. 

What are the benefits?

People I have worked with who have followed these guidelines have repeatedly commented on how much more freedom they have to enjoy their lives. They no longer feel overwhelmed, stressed and burdened in a maze of multitasking. Rather, they feel calm, focused and find joy in completing their projects or improving the quality of their relationships. By not giving in to not paying attention, doing two or more things simultaneously, we bring our best selves into play to experience unlimited rewards professionally and personally.