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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 September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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