Are You One of the 2.5 Percent? Six Hints You May Be a Supertasker

“Multitasking is a lie… You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.” – Gary Keller, real estate mogul and bestselling author.

If you honestly, truly believe you’re great at multitasking, I have disappointing news: you’re honestly, truly not. Numerous studies have confirmed one of the findings of a 2009 pilot study of heavy multitaskers by Stanford University psychologists: that those who are convinced they’ve mastered multitasking invariably prove bad at it. Rather, they excel at task-switching—rapidly flipping to the mode of thought required by a secondary task. Think of it as one of those two-sided whiteboards. When you task-switch, you flip from one board full of information to the other. If you happen to have a three-sided board, you can handle a third task. Any more than that, and you’ll have to start erasing modes of thought whenever you switch, sketching in new ones as you go. That’s when memory, attention, and productivity start to suffer.

For a while, researchers thought true multitaskers didn’t exist. Then a 2010 study discovered a remarkable woman whose performance actually improved as she simultaneously handled three very different tasks. Ultimately, the researchers found that 2.5% of their test subjects could multitask better than they could singletask. These “supertaskers” don’t even consider it a big deal; it was easy.

Further research showed that supertaskers literally think differently from the rest of us. When asked to multitask while inside a brain scanner, they showed less brain activity than the control group in areas devoted to attention and cognitive processing—even when the controls were NOT multitasking! Apparently, supertasker brains are wired more efficiently in those areas. It’s as close as to a superpower as any of us will ever see in real life.

Of the thousands of people I expect to read this blog entry, a few hundred—at most—will be capable of supertasking. If you suspect you’re one of them, check your work performance for these factors. The proof lies with #6, so if you see yourself in the first five, don’t skip it.

  1. You have a high level of attentional control. You having no problem identifying and focusing on key objects in a cluttered environment. You instinctively key on what matters, even when multiple distractions compete aggressively for your attention.

  2. You make important decisions instantly. As with #1, you cut right to the heart of the matter, see what’s important, and base your decisions on that. This allows you to finish more work more efficiently in less time.

  3. You flourish under stress. You do best with a full plate, as things start coming down to the wire, when a million things demand your attention and people keep bugging you constantly. If you always produce good work even under these conditions (or especially under these conditions) without flirting with burnout, you’re probably a supertasker.

  4. You have better self-control when under a heavy workload. Rather than freaking out and losing it when you’re snowed under, you feel calmer, more alive. You enjoy being constantly busy and directing or completing multiple tasks in a relatively short time.

  5. You hit peak efficiency when multitasking. You don’t do worse at multiple tasks: you do better at all of them. Multitasking seems easy, and you enjoy it; it may even seem easier than singletasking, and infinitely less boring. Writer Michael-Scott Earle published his first novel in February 2016, and as of mid-April 2018 has produced 37, most of which are 350+ pages long. All have earned 4.1- to 5-star ratings on Amazon (26 with over 100 reviews each, two with over 500), except for one 3.3 rating. Currently, he’s producing 2-4 books monthly. Supertasking much?

  6. You crush the test at Supertasker.org.  This psychologist-designed supertasker test is ridiculously hard. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re just playing a bouncer letting people into a nightclub. You may not want to take the test because it’s 40 minutes long and makes your brain hurt, but if you don’t, you’ll never know for sure. What if you discover it’s easy for you?

Look, Up in the Sky…

Supertasking, as opposed to task-switching, may derive from both neural efficiency and excellent cognitive control—the ability to interact with your environment in a goal-directed manner. If you’re one of the lucky few, you have high mental “bandwidth,” a super-efficient brain, iron self-control, and focus only on what matters for each task you’re juggling, though you can track multiple targets simultaneously.

If you’re not, stick to singletasking. Even if you think you’re good at multitasking, you’ll do best by focusing intensely on one thing at a time.

 


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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