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Published on December 13, 2017

Quit Multi Tasking Before It’s Too Late

Quit Multi Tasking Before It’s Too Late

When you’ve got a full schedule, multitasking looks like a good way to free up time. Almost everybody does it. Kids eat while watching TV or playing on an iPad. Adults simultaneously text and surf the internet. Walk down any city street, and you’ll see people attempting to walk and use their smartphones at the same time.

Multitasking has become the norm. We even pride ourselves on how many things we can do at once. The more tasks we can juggle, the more valuable we feel we are to our companies, families, and friends. This may be flawed logic, however.

When you think back on your experiences with multitasking, did you really accomplish more? Our obsession with multitasking confirms our love of productivity, but the quality of our work may tell a different story.

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Multitasking is a habit, not an art form

Nothing beats wrapping up a day of work with a cleared checklist. It feels good to accomplish so much at once. Multi-tasking has become a habit for most of us. It’s expected of us, and we don’t think twice about tackling several projects at once.

Habits are made of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.[1] The cue prompts us to do something, the routine is the behavior acted out, and the reward is the payoff that we get from the routine. Habits are hard to break because when you successfully complete your routine, your brain releases a feel-good neurotransmitter called dopamine.

According to some studies, our brains release lots of dopamine when we’re multitasking. Your brain rewards you more when you multitask because you are fulfilling more routines at the same time.[2] All that dopamine–and the feelings of satisfaction that come along with it–trick you into thinking you’re great at multitasking. This is why the habit is so hard to break.

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More isn’t necessarily better

The “more is better” mentality is a myth in need of busting. Research has proven that multi-tasking isn’t good for us, and we aren’t as good at it as we think. Your brain is simply not built to focus on multiple things at the same time.[3]

When you’re faced with doing two things at once, it’s not possible for you to focus completely on both items. Instead, your brain rapidly switches between the two tasks, which creates the illusion that you’re 100% invested in two activities at the same time.

When your mind has to juggle, it can’t be as effective as when you give your undivided attention. It takes longer to do things because you’re constantly interrupting yourself. You’ll make more errors because every time your brain switches tasks you have to refocus. You’ll also feel more stressed as you flip between jobs.[4]

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Switching back and forth affects your memory and the quality of your work. Sure, more items are completed at the end of a day of multitasking, but have you had the chance to think about them with sufficient depth?

I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you want to do your best work, it’s time to break the multi-tasking habit and focus on doing one thing at a time.

Monotasking gets better results

It may sound counter-intuitive to switch from doing several things at the same time to limiting yourself to one task. Monotasking, or doing only one thing, is better for us, and it improves work outputs.

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We have to retrain our brains to make single-tasking a habit. By devoting your full attention to one task, you can maintain focus for longer, work with more depth, and produce higher-quality work.

Research shows that when you make a conscious effort to refocus a wandering mind, you increase your ability to control your attention. Just like you can develop muscle memory to make some jobs seem second nature to you, you can harness the power that your prefrontal cortex has over your limbic system. Your focus and memory improves, and you have better control over your mind.

Easy tips to build your monotasking muscle

  • Open one tab at a time. How often do you have 15-20 items open on your computer screen at once? Limit yourself to having one tab open. This keeps you from being tempted to flip between tabs and lose concentration.
  • Start small. Making drastic changes to your lifestyle can leave you feeling frustrated. Take small steps to make mindfulness a natural part of your day. At mealtimes, for example, clear away all other distractions. When you’re in a meeting, turn your phone off and put it away. These minor changes add up to days filled with more focus.
  • Set your priorities. You might have a mile-long list of things that need your attention, but you have to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Think about what is most important, and when you work best so that you can still be productive without sacrificing quality.[5]
  • Curb your excesses. Most of us have too much stuff cluttering our lives. Think about what you need to complete the task in front of you, and put everything else away. Resist the urge to over-commit by saying “yes” to too many things and having all your projects out at once. When you are working on something, everything else should be put aside.
  • Let people know what you’re doing. If your colleagues are used to you dropping everything to put out the latest fire, they may be shocked to find that you are prioritizing your schedule in a new way. They’ll be more likely to respect and support your efforts if they know what you’re trying to do.[6]

All these tips help you rein in your wandering mind. Each time you are able to stop distraction and refocus, you build your attention muscle. The more control you have over paying attention, the less you’ll be distracted. Eventually, focus will become your new habit.

Single tasking is the next big thing

It’s time to ditch the multitasking myth we’ve been sold for years. We humans aren’t as good at multitasking as we think. This habit robs us of our focus and the opportunity to do profound work.

If the idea of totally changing your workflow seems overwhelming, try a few of the tips in this article to get started. After you feel what it’s like to devote your energy to one thing at a time, you’ll be able to make monotasking a habit.

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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