So you think you can multitask? Of course you do. Just check out your resume, it’s one of your key in-demand skills, right? Wrong. Our brains are not wired to multitask. Yes, digital processors like computers are; brains, no. We have not overcome millennia of evolution since the advent of the personal computer, the internet, cell phones, and a life now measured in nanoseconds. But truly multitask? No, what we are really doing is Faultitasking.

According to Paul Atchley, Ph.D., an associate professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Kansas, years of research as well as studies focused specifically on multitasking have shown, “It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%. Long-term memory suffers and creativity — a skill associated with keeping in mind multiple, less common, associations — is reduced.”

Oh sure, we can listen to and enjoy music while we toil away the hours. But to actually focus on multiple more complex tasks simultaneously, quality is going to take a severe nosedive. As the studies have shown, every time we break from and then return to a specific task, we must go through a recall process to get back to the point at which we left it. Time cost here. Then there were those sudden creative thoughts and insights that were about to be, but were not yet implemented. They may or may not readily return to the forefront of your mind. Lost innovation opportunities. But wait, must check text messages – and respond to projects hanging up on our input. The quick cell phone calls or text messages to clarify issues. Oh, are you available for a brief, impromptu meeting? Even the brightest, the sharpest, the quickest brain is going to experience a diminishing quality of performance with this constant flow of digital overload. But looming deadlines only focus on the imperative need to multitask while being attached to the digital grid.

The past several years of recession in particular have resulted in shrinking numbers of employees, but not shrinking workloads. Those lucky enough to have been retained must shoulder tasks of former coworkers. And luckily, increasing technology has allowed us to accomplish more in less time. But even before this, the expectations that along with the techno tools at our fingertips, the ability to juggle more and more tasks by individuals could also be accomplished. Although Smart Phones, iPhones, and iPads are no less than fantastic they are not magical. Oh, compared to life as we see it on the slow-moving, fictional workplace of AMC’s “Mad Men” which portrays the daily working lives of Madison Avenue ad agencies in the 1960s, they may seem so. There is, nevertheless, a subtle issue here of cognitive dissonance in the workplace. And the fallacy of multitasking is at the core of this issue.

People constantly connected to the digital grid are not silicon processors. A digital device is simply circuitry carrying out programmed orders dependent solely on the innovative engineering skills of designers and programmers. Our brains are not being redesigned and upgraded at the same pace as technology. Our brain not only thinks but reacts to the emotional filters that are in place. We don’t get a new edition of our brain every year, or even every decade. The one we were issued at birth is with us for life and is essentially wired the first couple of years after birth. We still must be given time for reflection and focus to accomplish our tasks. And, unplugging from the digital grid is part of this. Likewise, we want the designers and programmers to have this if we are to continue to expect them to enrich our lives with newer, better, more exciting tools. We must recognize the fallacy of multitasking, and that what is really happening is Faultitasking.
The expectations of others have shaped our view of what we SHOULD be able to accomplish. And as we fail to be able to live up to these unrealistic standards of performance we blame ourselves and only try to take on more and more in an effort to redeem ourselves. Acknowledging the multitasking myth as Faultitasking is the first step in taking control of your life.

Change does not have to be monumental. We didn’t arrive at this moment overnight. A starting point can be scheduling two or three breaks during the course of the day to step away from all tasks and kind of unplug from everything. Completely step away, mentally, and practice simple mindful meditation for short times initially, perhaps 10-15 minutes periods. Find a quiet place, even if it is at your desk. No tools are necessary – now that’s great news! All you will do is sit quietly and mindfully focus on one thing only: your breathing. Experience your inhaling, slowly, then briefly holding your breath, then slowly exhaling. And you just repeat this, keeping your mind attentive to only your breathing. In and out, in and out. What you are doing is giving your mind a vacation, a vacation from thinking, from concerns, from worries, from distractions, from everything. And as a vacation from work is so refreshing and exhilarating, you will begin to find these mindful meditation moments equally so.

You can’t change the world you live in and all the demands of it, overnight, but this is a first step in taking back your life and the mental vacations will allow you to return with greater focus and improved ability to manage that life. “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” -Lao Tzu and you have taken yours.

Author's Bio: 

Annette Stone has been involved in developing and producing self-help titles for publisher Penton Overseas since 1992. These include numerous foreign language learning programs in audio, video, and print formats for both children and adults. Additionally, she edited and produced dozens of adult self-help audiobooks in the areas of business, finance, and general lifestyle, as well as contributing to a variety of children’s board books and self-help books for tweens.
More recently, as Vice President of Strategic Development, recognizing the shifting focus to a digital environment, she directed the transitioning of titles including video, to digital learning formats for downloading and for use with iPods, smart phones, and other media devices.
With a degree in Visual Arts and an MBA, she has recently studied Web Marketing Strategies with an emphasis on utilizing social networking sites and the use of digital media devices.

Tom McGrew worked as a Representative for Atari during the first home video game consoles boom. He later worked on the sales of the Atari computers and then computer game software sales and marketing. He worked for Encyclopedia Britannica, as an executive, helping to create the first interactive Encyclopedia.
The author was leader in introduction of CD Rom multimedia technology and has been involved with the Internet since 1995. He was Vice President of New Technology for EMI Records during the start of the chaos of downloading. He had predicted the need for the music industry to embrace the use of the Internet rather than fighting it and denying its threat.
The author is certified NLP Master Practitioner. He has created and help develop six board book for children and 40 various audio based language learning titles.