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Avoiding the multitasking trap

If you met someone at a social event whose eyes were constantly moving around the room or if they were repeatedly checking their phone during the conversation, would they make a good impression or make you want to speak to them again? Probably not. However, if you met someone who is fully attentive and actively engaged to the conversation, you are much more likely to find them interesting and likeable.

A common misconception

Contrary to a popular belief, multitasking is not an effective way to get things done. Our brains are not wired to do two cognitive tasks at the same time, instead we move rapidly between tasks and when we are doing one, we are not fully aware of the other. Multitasking may help us to check off more things on our to-do lists, but it can also make us more prone to making mistakes, less likely to retain information in our working memory and more likely to miss important information. This in return can negatively impact our problem-solving skills and creativity.

Multitasking helps us train our brain to process several things at once, but it prevents us from doing anything well. When doing a number of activities at the same time, we cannot give it our undivided attention and therefore properly process what we are working on. We might think that we are getting more done, but in reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40 percent. Because we are not actually multitasking – we are switching between tasks, rapidly shifting in between tasks, interrupting ourselves unproductively and losing time in the process. The cognitive cost of regaining focus when multitasking is high – some research shows that it can take us between 10-18 minutes to get the same level of attention back.

The impact of the present time

According to a Harvard University study, adults spend only about 50 percent of their time in the present moment. This alarming number shows that we are mentally checked out half the time, as we are absorbed by a myriad of other things beyond what’s happening right now. A different research suggests that when we are in the present moment, we are also at our happiest, no matter what we are doing. When we are engaged in a task, we are most productive when we are completely attentive to it. Instead of getting caught up in a race to accomplish more things faster, we are actually present with the people we are with, fully engaged in our projects and immersed in ideas we are discussing.

Small changes can make a big difference in helping you to stay focused and present at a task, driving individual and team success. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering learning solutions that help leaders and their teams to drive success, focused on practical tools to help solve real life challenges. In most cases we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off the shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. Our Personal Effectiveness programme gives participants the knowledge, techniques and confidence to allow more positive personal achievements. To find out more, please contact

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