Back in college, we were often taught about the importance of identifying our strengths and developing them. This is so we can have something to become experts in and not waste energy on weaknesses that would ultimately prevent us from becoming experts in anything. As the saying goes, “we can’t be good at everything.” So, some people find their life’s calling at a young age. Playing bakery turns into becoming an accomplished pastry chef, a perpetually active little boy becomes an award-winning runner, a little girl fascinated with microscopes grows up to be a scientist who advances research by a step, and so on.

How to Multitask Under Pressure Without Losing It

What about you?

Perhaps you can’t identify with these examples and maybe you still don’t know what your true calling is. Don’t worry, it’s not unusual or even exceptional. Even after finishing school, people often don’t know what they’re good at or what could potentially fulfill them more than what they’re currently doing. However, this blog post won’t be about how to figure out what you’re good at and what might fulfill you more than your current occupation. Instead, it will be about finding time to even start looking because, as we all know, we’re a generation that never has enough time. 🙂

“It’s afternoon and I haven’t done anything yet today.”

Does this apply to your afternoon too? Maybe not today, but there have certainly been a few. Why? Well, there are days when one meeting follows another and the morning goes by in a flash, so you never really get to the task you left off from yesterday. And what about that pile of emails that accumulated overnight in your inbox? When will you get to it? Maybe that meeting isn’t that important for you, or you’re just an observer (if so, is your attendance really necessary?), so you try to open your laptop or phone. You start sorting through your inbox with one eye, looking at the presentation with the other eye, listening to your colleague who is leading the meeting with one ear, and hearing the quiet conversation of the colleague next to you with the other ear. An hour passes, you leave the meeting, which didn’t give you much, you replied to a few emails, laughed at your colleague’s remark, and in the afternoon, you still have to go to your colleague to ask what you actually agreed on during the meeting because your memory doesn’t reach that far. And at the end of the day, you receive an email from a client saying that they didn’t understand your response in the morning because it was completely off-topic. Have you experienced this? The attempt at multitasking, as a modern “quality brand,” often comes at the expense of quality.

“Sorry, can you repeat what you told me on the phone? I forgot.”

Well, maybe it never even made it to your head. Why? Our brain is not designed to receive and process multiple stimuli through the same sensory channels, unless at least one such activity is automated. (Nodding in the style of “Yes, honey,” does not count as an automated activity.) Remember your first miles behind the wheel, when even a hint of conversation was distracting and there was no sound of the radio. Over time, this activity became routine. By then, your brain was able to process various other stimuli, such as conversation or music, without difficulty. That’s how we function when something is automated, we respond more easily to external stimuli. Although, I feel compelled to argue about whether even automated activities such as driving or brushing teeth deserve our full attention and can enrich our lives. But that’s maybe a topic for another time.

“Can I have a moment? It will only be a minute.”

But let’s get back to our lives. Our working lives, that is. Whether you have a team leader above you or you are one yourself, whether you work alone or study, how many things can you really do at once? Hopefully, you are answering only one. Because that’s the reality. However, how many tasks and requests for help or your attention are hanging over you at any given moment? Countless. But what can you do about it? Try singletasking. In practice, it doesn’t mean that you start working on one task in the morning and continue working on it until the evening because, well, single. 🙂 Singletasking means that you value your time, as well as the time of others, and focus at one moment on only one task. Setting priorities (order) among individual tasks is, of course, another matter. For example, if you have a 30-minute block allocated for presentation preparation, use it fully. All email notifications, chats, and colleagues’ questions are not just an extra minute. They are a trap that when one falls into, it will cost them additional minutes to refocus on the topic that was being worked on. And the vast majority of questions can really wait a few minutes. Oh, what was that presentation supposed to be about again?

“What did you say to me, dear, while I was watching that football game?”

Hopefully, this question does not end up in many partnerships with an argument. However, it may well illustrate the need for singletasking in our lives if we want to have them more peaceful. Although the heady haze of eternal busyness may pave its way to fashionable trends, from newer or older research, it is clear that people want to be primarily happy, healthy, doing what fulfills them, and functioning in stable partnerships. Yes, you cannot buy these with money. Time is essential for each of these values. If we invest our time correctly, it will still come back to us.

Research shows that people living in stable partnerships and marriages are not only happier but also healthier. I won’t delve into partnership advice, I just suggest incorporating singletasking into non-work relationships and into our relationship with ourselves. Does it make sense? After all, the other person will understand that scrolling through social media is okay, and I am still listening, right? Do you remember the last conversation with someone you were completely taken with? It didn’t necessarily have to be a deep conversation about the meaning of life; it could easily have been a discussion about a vacation, but nothing bothered you. What was the feeling like? Definitely great. 🙂 When you give yourself more and more of these moments, you will no longer feel the need to respond to the email you just received, which can spoil your mood, and you will also lose the thread of the entire conversation, which will also be disrespectful to the other person.

“Someone always wants something from me right away.”

And what about single-tasking and ourselves? We often overwhelm ourselves with how much we have to do, nothing is finished, and new tasks keep coming. And we still amplify the importance of everything that awaits us. What to do about it? Being able to say no to external demands, postponing them to another time is not only responsible, but also very considerate to ourselves. Being able to manage not only time, but also attention is not selfish or a sign of reluctance. It is a sign of maturity and ultimately, it is good for everyone. Btw. How many times have you burned your food because you were also hanging laundry?

“You’re such a great multitasker!”

Really? Because in fact, multitasking does not exist. What our brain does is simply switch rapidly between tasks. And what happens when your partner keeps switching between 4 TV stations during dinner? You don’t have a good experience, you miss out on everything, and maybe you’ll end up arguing because you didn’t see the end of the movie. Take it as a parallel with our brain being brilliant, but let’s not try to do more than its capacity and rather use it for what it’s built for. Long-term pressure of unfinished tasks, our dissatisfaction with the results, poor feedback from the environment, and frustration… It’s a guaranteed path to our satisfaction going downhill, and from there it’s just a step away from burnout.

So what to do about it?

If you just want to test what it would be like to focus your attention on one activity, try it. Consciously go through the day with the intention of only doing one thing at a time – when you’re on the phone, just talk on the phone, when responding to emails, don’t talk about an important project with a colleague, and while writing an article, don’t chat with a supplier about a new wardrobe. It can be really enriching. It’s possible that at the end of the day, you’ll find that focusing on what you’re doing has given you a few extra minutes that you usually lack.

There are many things in life that we don’t have easy control over. Being able to say no to a disruptive stimulus is one way to discover new potential and joy in ourselves. And perhaps by taking things step by step in our lives, things will go more smoothly and maybe even faster. This can give us time to find our true calling.