One Potato at a Time

One Potato at a Time

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My grandmother had a saying that I have never forgotten. “You can only plant one potato at a time, and you can only harvest one potato at a time.” Of course, this was from the days before machinery took over this planting and harvesting, but the meaning still rings true. We all really need to step back and consider how our drive to multi-task may be doing more harm than good.

Just what is multitasking? Basically, it is a choice to work on multiple things all at the same time and quickly switch back and forth among those tasks.

The big question, though, is how efficient it is and how it impacts the human brain, cognitive functioning, and psychological well-being. And, according to research, it is neither efficient nor mentally healthy.

First, our brains are not wired to multitask. We are cognitively wired to handle one important task at a time – one potato at a time, so to speak. And what the research does show is that multitasking lowers productivity, increases the number of mistakes we make, and, ultimately, causes stress and burnout. And as we continue to try to do it, the stress and burnout only get worse. 

Think about this simple example. You are in a conversation with a co-worker about a project you are working on. While they are speaking, and you are supposed to be listening, you get a text message ping. You open up that message and view the contents, convinced that you can do that and still listen to your co-worker. Actually, you can’t. Your brain switches over to the text message, you read it, and then you quickly try to re-focus on the conversation. Your brain doesn’t make that switch quickly. It has to shut down the memory of the text message and then begin the memory of the conversation once again. Some of that conversation is lost, so you may find yourself having to ask that co-worker to repeat what they have said again.

The constant switching from task to task works like this in your brain. The moment you move to another task, your memory of the past task is impacted. So, when you move back to that prior task, you have to spend time bringing yourself back up to speed. Neuroscientists use very scientific terms to explain all of this, but it’s not necessary here. Just know that switching from task to task causes some loss of memory that you must spend time regaining. This explains the loss of productivity and the increase in errors. The brain simply cannot move seamlessly from one task to another and then back again.

Once you realize that you are experiencing less productivity and more mistakes, you become frustrated, and those nasty stress hormones are triggered. Once that happens, you tend to react emotionally, and your intellectual functioning is reduced. 

What Can You Do About This?

Once you realize that you will be more efficient and productive by mono-tasking, there are things you need to change about your work and/or personal life.

First, separate your work and your personal life. Suppose you are really focused on a work task with a deadline. At the same time, you are a single man who is involved in online dating and communicating with a few women through that app. You are knee-deep in your project and all of a sudden you get a notification to “click over here” for a message from one of your dating relationships. You can ignore it and continue on with your work, but the interruption itself has caused you to take focus away from your project. The solution? Block all of these possible distractions while you work. If that means turning off your phone too, do it.

Second, take the advice of my grandmother and Lee Iacocca, a long-ago CEO of Chrysler Corporation. Make a list of the tasks before you. Prioritize them. Then, begin on #1, and do not move on to #2 until that first one is completed. 

Third, schedule a specific time of your day to deal with the distractions that you normally respond to when they arrive. Do not take phone calls, do not take text messages, and do not allow others to interrupt you during any other time. Make it known as best you can of your scheduled time for responses.

Fourth, engage in some self-care. You work hard. It is important to take time to attend to those activities that give you relief and pleasure. Those feel-good hormones will kick in, and your brain and body will thank you.

Remember this: when you can step back from the urge to multitask, your productivity will increase, your mistakes will decrease, and your overall satisfaction with both your work and personal lives will improve markedly.

Also Read: Dry storage can bring about better sustenance – the advantages to count on!



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