Think in English with Adah

A TEFL blog: You have to train yourself to think in English

A Phrase A Week: To get to the bottom of something


If you get to the bottom of something, you find out its real cause or the true story behind it.


1.      The police don’t know who did the robbery yet, but they promised to get to the bottom of it.

2.      I’m not sure how a mistake like this could happen, but I’m determined to get to the bottom of it and make sure it never happens again.


A Phrase A Week: To be on one’s toes


To be concentrated so that you are ready to deal with anything that might happen.



1.      He keeps changing the rules just to keep us on our toes.

2.      Seven managers attended the project meeting last Friday and I was the only one reporting for our team. It really got me on my toes.


A Phrase A Week: Fish Out of Water


A person who is awkward and out of place.

If someone is a fish out of water, they are placed in a situation that is completely new to them and confuses them.


1.      She is like a fish out of water at these blind dates her mother makes her attend.

2.      After retirement, my father has nothing to do except spending most of his time surfing on the Internet. He is such a fish out of water!


How to Be an Effective Multitasker?

Believe it or not, all of us are natural multitaskers. It is all part of life. When we have breakfast, how many of us do not read news from digital media such as cellphones or iPads? We walk when we talk on the phone. We microblog when we are talking to our parents or attending a dull meeting. This is extremely true when you cook in your kitchen. You don’t just spend 2 hours waiting for the long-poached Cantonese soup and doing nothing but staring at the pot!

We are just never too tired to multitask, aren’t we? But multitasking isn’t a bed of roses. 

Researchers at Stanford University warn us that over-multitasking may impair our cognitive control. After running a series of tests, they got a shocking result that high-tech jugglers who always do a lot of media multitasking actually underperformed light multitaskers who rarely do 2 things at the same time. The reasons are probably that the heavy multitaskers were not able to ignore irrelevant information or keep things separate in their minds. It is more difficult for them to concentrate on the chosen information than the light multitaskers.

Maybe it is time to retract my earlier thoughts and rethink how multitasking can do us good.

So here are some tips to help you achieve more when multitasking:

1. To learn to control the beast

Our brain is so good at deluding itself that we think we can be masters of multitasking as long as we practice it more. The temptation to do many things at once is like a beast that we unleash whenever we need to do a lot of tasks within limited time. Though our brain is complex and able to perform various tasks, what we really do when we multitask is shifting our focus from one task to another with high speed. We think we are paying attention to two tasks simultaneously, but we are just switching between them. The more tasks we take on at the same time, the more likely we get stressed by alternating between several tasks; the more errors we tend to make, not to mention the valuable time lost in the switching process because our brain is forced to pause and refocus after each single switch.

So when you feel you become less efficient while doing too many tasks at the same time, you need to chain the beast and keep it in the cage. 

2. To learn to ignore just for a short time

Though a lot of people use the term prioritizing tasks, I prefer ignoring tasks temporarily that are not so important or urgent. To ignore things means you are more able to get fully concentrated on one thing at one time. We have a limited ability to retain information, which gets worse when a lot of information comes in at the same time. The capability to filter out irrelevant information and to focus on one task is really important for achieving high-quality work. Less is more. This also helps us maintain a peaceful and focused mind by ignoring distractions.

3. To do ONLY non-interfering tasks at once

Whether you can multitask effectively or not also depends on whether you make the right choices in what you plan to do at the same time.

If the tasks that we choose to do simultaneously are from the same category, for example, writing an email and talking on the phone at the same time, there is going to be a lot of conflict between the two tasks because both of them involve the speech function of our brain. Similar tasks compete to use the same part of our brain and interfere with each other. But we can be much better off if we do tasks that do not use similar skills at the same time, such as walking and talking with a friend, brushing teeth and listening to news, watching TV and folding laundry, doing computer programming and listening to rock and roll music as one trainee mentioned at class and so on.

4. To practice switchtasking rapidly

We can train ourselves to multitask by practicing switching between tasks fast. Being able to alternate between tasks swiftly is a basic capability that receptionists must have. We can also do well at this if we learn to pause and restart our mind using the shortest time when we switch focus. There are a lot of organizational tools that can help us do speedy switching, such as sticky notes, Outlook alerts, cell phone reminders or even a personal assistant.

5. To unitask when possible

Multitasking isn’t all of our life. There are a lot of other aspects of our life that do not require us to juggle so much, such like art, painting, writing a blog entry just like this one! We deserve to enjoy the simplicity of unitasking and give ourselves a break from time to time.

Word Bank:

1.   long-poached: boiled in liquid gently for a long time

2.  to juggle: to handle two or more tasks at the same time (original meaning: to keep several objects such as balls in the air simultaneously by tossing and catching)

3.   juggler: a person who juggles

4.   to underperform (someone): to perform worse than (someone)

5. to retract: to take back something you have said

6. to delude: to mislead or deceive

7. to alternate: to keep changing between 2 or more things

8. to retain: to keep something in your mind

9. to interfere with (something/ someone): to get involved or involve oneself, causing disturbance switchtask: to switch between tasks unitask: to carry out only one task at one time