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The Right Way To Be A Multitasker

The Right Way To Be A Multitasker

Some people have a very precise definition of who they are, and if it works for them, that’s great. I can see how comforting it can be to look at yourself in the mirror and say: “I am exactly the person I think I am.”

The trouble for me is: I don’t find it comforting. I find it stifling. Don’t get me wrong, I have expectations of myself, others and the world.
But I’ve never felt like I was a fixed concept. I change, and by that I don’t mean I change with time, I mean I change all the time. I get to choose who I want to be at every second, and that makes me feel free.

The thing is, most productivity theories are meant for single-minded people. They tell us we should focus on one project, take it to the limit, then move on to the next one, hopefully in a perfect continuity. The productivity ideal seems to be: know exactly what’s coming next, and then become exactly that.

But I don’t think that reflects the way most people function. We have jobs. We have personal lives. We have hobbies, interests, mood swings, little illnesses, moments of motivation, moments of joy. All of those things constantly change. They shift, interact and often conflict, requiring us to make hard choices, and if there’s a choice we don’t know how to make, we feel like we failed. But we didn’t fail. We were simply the usual victims of a case of “Life happens”. Life does happen, all the time. My point is, we should embrace it.

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1. Let the pressure off

The first and biggest culprit for our unhappiness is the feeling that we should be doing “more.” Am I getting enough sleep? Am I spending enough time with my family? What if my 50 hours of weekly work are insufficient? We don’t even wait for our loved ones to complain, or for our boss to give us feedback. We are constantly pitting ourselves against the clock, under the impression that more hours is always better.

Well, that’s simply not true.

A large body of work supports the claim that our productive time is capped. 40 to 50 hours per week is the spot after which we cannot focus anymore. Much like an athlete training for a marathon, our brain needs time to recover, and grudging that is the most direct path to a burnout (a well-known Finnish study postulates that people who work 11 hours per day are at a 2.5 times higher risk of suffering from depression than people who work for 7-8 hours.)

Our friends and family too need quality time rather than a lot of time (ignore this if you’ve just put a toddler into this world, and revisit once you leave them in Kindergarten.) Does your better half prefer to have your undivided attention for 1 hour, or would they rather have you slumped on the couch by their side with your laptop for the whole evening? There you go.

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We really need to leave the “longer is better” mindset behind. Instead, we should commit to every activity we undertake. Work less but be more focused. Run less but do interval training. We cannot add more hours to our days, but we can make the most of each hour. That’s the goal.

2. Don’t give up on things that matter

Once you realize you don’t need to do more, it’s time to get another complex out of the way. You are allowed to have many different things matter to you. You don’t need to pigeonhole yourself as a family person, a workaholic, a fitness addict or a geek.

In my case, I have a partner, a family and a job, I am trying to get into running, and I love video games, books, movies, theater, singing, taking pictures. Every one of these things matters to me. Some people might say: why don’t you pick a couple activities, that should be enough to make you happy, right?

Wrong. The vast amount of things I enjoy is part of who I am, and each moment I spend enjoying them increases me. Why would I specialize?

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First of all, there are diminishing returns to everything: our productivity, our enjoyment of activities, and indeed our enjoyment of others. We all have stories of people going away on holidays with best friends, and wanting to strangle them before the end…

Second and most importantly, having diverse interests has been proven time and time again to make us smarter, quicker, more apt to create new, impactful ideas and things. In The Art of Scientific Invention, W.I.B. Beveridge explained, in 1957 already, that our brains need an “eclectism of influence” to be at their best. In other words, diversifying our activities is not only alright, it’s a necessity.

So instead of grudgingly giving up on things you enjoy for the sake of conforming to a definition, leave the door open. If anything, discover new things to enjoy from time to time! We all age, but we don’t have to grow old.

3. Track your time to get rid of distractions

The big question, of course, is: how to fit all that in a week? There’s only so much time you can claw back. If you work 40 hours instead of 42, that’s still only 2 hours. So what gives?

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I really committed to tracking my time 2 years ago, when we created with two friends our own automated time-tracking app, Smarter Time. And I’ve learned something very important.

I was spending ages on things that did not matter to me, and could only be qualified as wasting time. I used to go back and forth between my work and silly articles on social media constantly. 10 minutes working, 4 minutes on Facebook. 10 minutes on emails, 3 minutes on Twitter. That’s about 25% of my working hours wasted. As a result, I felt I had to work 25% more. That’s not 2 hours, people. That’s the difference between a 50 and a 62 hour week. It’s huge.

But the thing is, because each distraction was very short in duration, I would never have guessed they were adding up to so much. That’s where having an objective way of tracking my time came into play. I essentially replaced 12 hours of useless time-wasters with a diversification of activities that actually make me grow.

Another thing it helps with is to balance your interests out. Let’s say I have a couple hours free. I’d like to play a bit of guitar, but then, I’d also like to play a video game. I can have a look at my analytics and decide: “Oh, I’ve played 10 hours of guitar this month, by my standards that’s enough. Let’s exterminate some alien species online!”

Multitasking, like any complex system, is a matter of organisation. Sure, it’s easier to have one job, one hobby and one friend; you always know what you’re going to do next. But if that doesn’t work for you, then you shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to broaden your horizons. We only have one life, but we each have an infinity of ways of living it – so why not try several ways at a time? There’s no reason not to be all the persons you want to be.

Featured photo credit: Steven Depolo via flickr.com

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

Instead, we’re going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

How Do We Remember?

The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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The last step is memory retrieval.

That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

7 Natural Memory Boosters

So how to work on memory and boost your brain power? Here’re 7 brain boosters backed by science that you should try:

1. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. [2]

In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

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Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

2. Sleep

You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password). [3]

Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance. [4]

Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance. [5]

3. MIND Diet

Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet. [6]

The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

4. Relax

We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

5. Continuous Learning

The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games. [7]

Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

6. Stay Social

The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

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Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline. [8]

In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests. [9]

What to do?

Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

7. Wakeful Rest

This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories. [10]

What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story. In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date. [11]

Conclusion

You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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