Is multitasking the 21st-century must-have skill? Or is it just a myth that strongly endangers productivity and learning outcomes? This question should have been settled a long ago in public opinion. Numerous research studies already show that working on multiple tasks at the same time is not efficient in the long run—it affects productivity and may decrease our ability to focus on activities that require our full attention.
However, most people are still guilty of praising their advanced multitasking skills. So at this rate, should teachers continue to push students down the multitasking route? Or it’s time to acknowledge that multitasking might not contribute to the students’ learning outcomes?
Let’s start by exploring what actually happens inside our brains when we multitask? Several dictionaries define multitasking as the ability of a computer or person to perform several tasks simultaneously. While this is perfectly true for computers, human brains are not so clear cut. Scientists argue that human brains are rather bad at switching between tasks and would be better off just focusing on one thing at a time. It may not seem like a big problem, but the switch doesn’t happen instantly. On average, the mind needs about 25 minutes to get back on track after being interrupted. To make up for this, it increases the work speed, which, in turn, leads to increased mistakes.
While there are a few things that can be done at the same time, the majority of daily activities require people’s full attention. Moreover, the mind can easily get exhausted from trying to keep up with a whole to-do list at once. To save energy, be more productive, and stay less stressed, people should single-task. And this is a skill that should be taught in school. After all, today’s students are equally exposed to technology as their adult counterparts.
5 things we can do to hack the mind into single-tasking
Surely, the advancement of technology and the interactive nature of social media and other apps have made a prominent impact on daily lives. Who can resist the urge of picking up their phone when a new message pops up on the screen?
And with everyone being so easy to reach, we are expected to answer all messages instantly, whether they come from our peers, our boss, our spouse, or our family.
Students nowadays face the same urges—they receive more and more messages from their colleagues and friends on a daily basis. In fact, most of them prefer online interactions over personal connections. This not only compounds the pressure to stay connected online but also increases the distractions that might prevent proper learning outcomes.
Slowing down and learning to find focus is the real challenge of the modern man. So what are some simple changes that can be easily implemented in the lives of students to overcome the urge to multitask?
1. Cleaning the working space
There’s a lot of buzz around the concept of minimalism these days and for a legitimate reason. The “less is more” motto can be translated in the context of daily lives by fewer worries and more mental space to focus on what matters. Cleaning up your work or study place Mari Kondo style is the first step in setting yourself up for a productive day.
2. Finding silence in crowded environments
Studies have shown that music can tremendously improve the ability to focus. This is especially true when the situation asks to be working from a common space—be it a study hall, the apartment you share with your friends, or an open space office area. A comfy pair of headphones and some classical music can create the isolation needed to calm down all the fuss around. Moreover, this small accessory works wonderfully in signaling to people that you shouldn’t be bothered.
3. Staying focused at home
Technology is empowering more and more people to work and study from home. However, being in this cozy and familiar place makes the temptation of multitasking even stronger. Do you think that dusting the furniture or being on social media during studying hours is a great idea? Well, it’s not.
Establishing clear limits between leisure and studying is paramount. Ideally, students should delimitate specific areas in the home for each type of activity they perform. So when they are in the said space, their brain knows what to expect and will focus on that particular activity.
4. Implementing batch processing
Instead of working on multiple unrelated things at a time, dividing work into chunks that can be treated as one single task is paramount. One can concentrate on that particular assignment until it’s done and then move on to the next one. A good idea would be to keep around materials and tools related to the task at hand only: be it books, notes, laptop folders, or Google tabs. Students can also turn off all notifications and set specific times for checking each app they usually use. No urgent inquiry that comes through e-mail or social media is so critical that it can’t wait a couple of hours.
5. Taking breaks
Breaks have become a taboo word for a culture that’s constantly worrying about becoming better, doing more, putting in 110%. However, there’s only so much the brain can do. The attention span of an average person ranges between 30 and 90 minutes, with the majority situated somewhere in the middle. Therefore, defining clear amounts of time to focus on work and then taking a break between sets will not only improve productivity but also reduce the risks of catching the mind wandering around.
Multitasking is a weakness, not a strength. Once we adopt a single-tasking mentality in school, we will see astonishing improvements not only in your professional pursuits but also in your personal life. In the long run, our increased attention span will propel us to achieve more of your goals and will have the energy to engage in the activities we have been postponing as well. The bottom line of single-tasking is that it relieves the pressure and stress from our shoulders so we can finally be happy while working or studying.