Multi-Tasking: Efficient Tool or Bad Habit?



Multi-tasking: What and Why?

We live in an era where multi-tasking is another must-know skill to add to your resume. As we are overwhelmed with an intense workload, which requires interaction with various departments and handling deadlines, we need to frequently switch between tasks to keep up with the work's speed. This multi-task skill also applies to the teaching profession.

Undoubtedly, teachers have to do a lot of things simultaneously: devising their lesson plans, having a conversation with colleagues and parents, making doctor appointments for their children, etc.

These days, multi-tasking is championed as a means to improve productivity and raise efficiency; however, this lifestyle also has unpredictable harm. Many studies show that we can achieve the highest efficiency in learning and working as we focus our attention on one thing at a time.

When we try to do many things at once, what's happening is that we're just shifting our attention every few seconds – from listening to music to checking emails to attending message notifications – without ever really concentrating on any of those actions.


So multi-tasking, regardless of the circumstances, will affect our effectiveness to some extent. We can mention some of the damages it does to your brain:

  • Easy to make mistakes and therefore reduce the quality of work

  • Endangering yourself (e.g., driving while texting)

  • The prefrontal cortex of your brain can be worn out, which subsequently decreases emotional intelligence

  • Time-consuming when switching from one operation to another.

So yeah, multi-tasking should probably not be a championed skill, but rather a bad habit to eliminate. Unlike college days, you probably won't get away with cramping your 300-page textbook the night before your test, or writing your 10-page final exam hours before deadlines and hoping it would get you a passing grade. Working is different. You are responsible for not only yourself but for your team and the people whose work relies on the completion of yours. Because of that responsibility, you do not want to cramp 10 things at a time without finishing any of the deadlines. But how can we escape from the chaotic cycle of fast-paced work and start to focus more on what matters?


How do we escape the whirlwind of multi-tasking?

What we should do is to focus on one single task and work smarter and more efficiently. One solution that Dr. Nguyen Nam introduced in the PEN 2020 workshop is practicing mindfulness and compassion.


Mindfulness helps us choose what we want to focus on. Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness practice changes the brain's structure and function, making it easier for us to learn and remember. When we perform each task with mindfulness, we automatically see productivity growth in our projects.


When Dr. Nguyen Nam introduced the concept of mindfulness, many people were hesitant to hear. Many believe that you have to embark on a journey to practice mindfulness: trying meditation, yoga, or breath-focused exercises. However, the mindful practice can start from little actions, for example, folding your computer screen and getting up to walk around. Every time we focus on the present moment and what we want to do, it strengthens our will, leaving us with the energy to work in a much smarter and more efficient way.


Applying Mindfulness in Practice


BREATH

Take a minute a day to focus on closing your eyes and breathing. Sometimes, we encounter ourselves in shallow breaths that cause our body and mind to receive inadequate oxygen to function due to work nature.


Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply five times. Every time you inhale, listen to your breathing slow and feel the air filling your abdomen. Then, slowly exhale, controlling the airflow coming out. Repeating this action five times only takes a minute, but it greatly benefits our nervous system.


LISTEN

In addition to breathing, listening is also a good practice to achieve mindfulness and relieve our mind from stress. Close your eyes and listen whenever you are in a quiet space. Listen to the murmuring of the wind, the giggles of the children in the hallway, and the sound of the pen touching the paper as you write. It sounds that seem so ubiquitous, when we focus on listening to it, can help us feel much lighter and more stable.


When we manage to shut out the day-to-day noises, we can focus on the moment by listening to our steady breathing and the sound of our hearts beating.


THINK OF THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE

Close your eyes, think of the people you love: people you can't live without. This practice helps us appreciate the daily moments that we often take for granted. Happiness can be fleeting, but by observing and taking a moment to deeply engage in those thoughts, we can dismiss our unreasonable anger. We will emerge from this experience loving and respecting people more.


THINK OF THE PEOPLE WHO HURT YOU

Think of those who have hurt us, whether accidentally or intentionally, in the past. Instead of carrying hatred and vengeance with you, try to eliminate those thoughts and begin to forgive. Pray for their peace and happiness because only when we genuinely acknowledge forgiveness and practice mindfulness can we see peace and joy in our hearts.