How many browsers do you have open on your computer at any one time? How many websites or apps on your phone? How many unfinished tasks or started-but-never-finished actions?
If the answer is more than one or two, it is likely you’re task jumping.
It is often the illusion of progress manifested in the delusion of busyness. Another easy lie we tell ourselves that we are ‘multi-tasking’.
We feel we can take on more than one job at a time. We like the variety of having different things to do. Some people even tell us we are good at #multitasking or, worse, we have convinced ourselves that we are.
Some of us even get a buzz from it. But the only task jump that we make should be a break. The only multi-task should be something you can do passively, that doesn’t need your conscious attention, along with something that you do actively.
A podcast while exercising is legitimate, effective multi-tasking. Texting someone in a meeting is not! Reading a book while on a plane to the Bahamas is legitimate, effective multi-tasking. Looking on Facebook while on a date is not!
Task jumping is a behaviour. Whilst the first task jump might seem innocuous enough, you then jump from the new task to a newer one, and onto a newer one, and so on and on and on. Before you know it, you have lots of things started and nothing finished.
Like a computer that has so many browsers open it grinds to a halt, you get frazzled and your memory doesn’t work as fast. Then you overheat!
Each time you jump from task to task you get out of your flow state, where you had momentum; where you are IN the task, with the least resistance. You might call this being in the ‘zone’ or the ‘groove’. It takes time to get into this state.
Remember a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest.
Shockingly, according to Gloria Mark’s The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.
WTF? You could have done the entire damn task in the time it took to jump out and in again!
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, calls the flow state ‘an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what they are doing’.
You know that feeling, where time stands still or disappears because you were so into what you were doing. Once you are in that state, let the momentum carry you along and stay in it for as long as you have the energy.
According to Gloria Mark, a Professor at the University of California: ‘People switched activities on average of every three minutes and five seconds…people not only switched between small tasks, but also between entire projects every 10 and half minutes’.
WTAF?! If you task jump just five times a day, that could be up to two hours spent jumping between just 15 minutes spent on the actual small tasks, and less than one hour on important projects.
Imagine how much of your life you will liberate if you stay on task.
My small, male, linear brain hates being interrupted. In a second I can so easily forget what I was just doing or thinking. And then I worry that what I’d forgotten so fast was very important. And then I get frustrated with the interrupter. And then I bark at the interrupter. And then I forget why. And then as the interrupter is usually my spouse, I have to apologize. And then I know I will receive my due punishment later that night. Or not, as is usually the case.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, right? Right?
There will always be something that someone else perceives as urgent, to stop you from the important thing you are doing, right now.
And as long as you allow that to happen, the important will not get done and everything will become urgent and you will go from fire to fire reactively trying to solve issues that you could and should have prioritized weeks ago.
So stop allowing it to happen. Stop spraying your energy all over the place, wasting and misplacing most of it.
We task jump in our careers and lifestyles too. We fail to commit to the most important thing, and try a few side businesses, feeling we can juggle and progress with them all. Often, we fear missing out (FOMO) on a great opportunity.
But as soon as it gets hard, or doesn’t meet our (unrealistic) expectations, we change, under the delusion that it will be easier or better next time around. And we repeat this pattern our entire lives.
Many people do this with dating and relationships, hedging their bets and having multiple ‘back-up plans’, only to not fully focus on plan (person) A. After all, you don’t need a plan B if you make plan A work.
They play snakes and ladders with their work and their private lives, stopping and starting and chopping and changing again and again, all over again.
So, go narrow and deep, not shallow and wide.
And a huge added bonus of focused, single-task-oriented deep work without task jumping is this, according to Mihaly (because his first name is way easier) in Flow:
‘The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. In this (flow) state they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this ‘optimal experience’ they feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.’
And I only jumped three times in writing this post and now feel a deep sense of fulfillment for finishing it. I think I’ll take a break now 😉
The cost of interrupted work: More speed and stress. Publication by Gloria Mark