Multitasking & Making Habits
As any regular reader here knows, I’ve written a lot about how to make changes stick – break down your goals into small pieces and work on one at a time for the 21 days it takes to create a habit. As I have explained, we have a limited amount of willpower, so it’s important not to try to create habits that are too overwhelming, or to try to create more than one habit at the same time.
I’ve also written about multitasking, and how it’s not really a thing. You cannot do two things at the same time. What’s really happening is you are jumping back and forth between the two—and doing neither one as well as you would be if you were doing one at a time.
I never put those two thoughts together—the fallacy of multitasking, and the way to make changes that stick—until I read “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman.
Kahneman’s book is filled with many, extremely interesting ideas. One thing he writes about is two systems that we operate under.
System 1 is important in making routine decisions. We wouldn’t be able to function at the speed we are accustomed to if we constantly questioned our own thinking. System 2 requires attention and can’t do more than one thing at a time. One of the tasks of System 2 is to overcome the impulses of System 1—in other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control, aka willpower, aka the system that comes into play in order to make new habits.
When System 2 is working hard on one thing, it is hard to do a second thing. As an example, Kahneman writes, “She did not forget about the meeting. She was completely focused on something else when the meeting was set and she just didn’t hear you.” Put another way, multitasking doesn’t work.
To make habits stick, work on one new habit at a time.
To do things as well as possible, do not try to multitask—do one thing at a time.
What is your experience with multitasking? Please join the conversation with your comments…