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Single Tasking in the New Year [publisher's letter]

Publisher Tracy Patterson with her dog sitting in the desert resting up from a hike

Tracy Patterson

And another year passes... Try as I might to slow down time, it’s as if I can see the hands spinning around the clock, and the older I get the faster they spin!

One thing I’ve noticed is that when I attempt to multitask, or if I have a lot on my mind, time speeds up. It reminds me of the old days on those merry-go-rounds (also called playground spinners, roundabouts or carousels), where we’d get it going so fast that we couldn’t hang on any longer, and we’d go whipping off the ride and land in a crumple many feet away. At the end of some days, I feel like that kid who just got flung off the merry-go-round.

I believe that the multitasking mentality was almost an expectation back when I was a young adult. We were taught that being productive meant being efficient at doing like 10 things at once. However, recent studies show that this simply isn’t true.

In fact, my tendency to try and multitask has, from time to time, led me to suffer the consequences outlined in a study by David Meyer, a professor at the University of Michigan and director of the school's Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory. According to his study, multitasking impacts short-term memory; leads to increased anxiety; inhibits creative thinking; stops one from getting into a state of flow; and causes more mistakes and less productivity. I was just complaining recently that I couldn’t get into a creative headspace, or “the flow.”

According to the article “Multicosts of Multitasking,” by Kevin P. Madore, Ph.D., and Anthony D. Wagner, Ph.D., what we’re really doing when we’re multitasking is bouncing back and forth between tasks, not actually “multitasking,” due to the simple fact that our brains are not designed to do multiple things at once. And to add to this, Meyer states even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time—the very opposite result that we’re striving for!

To circle back to my original thoughts on slowing down time, I’ve found that if I concentrate on doing one thing at a time, not only am I more productive, my day seems to decelerate to a manageable pace—big bonus!

There’s so much more to this; more than I can summarize in my letter, but suffice is to say, I will be doing more research and learning how to single task effectively on a regular basis in order to make it a habit and enjoy the side benefit of slowing down my day.