In today’s fast-moving world, the only way to keep up with progress is by multitasking. Or so we’re constantly being told.
There are more than 6 million webpages out there, offering a wealth of tips on how to become a better multitasker. Career consultants are listing multitasking as a necessary component in a jobseeker’s core skillset. Promotions are coming easier to those employees who are deemed to be more efficient at multitasking than their colleagues. Even stay-at-home moms are taking pride in their ability to multitask like a master juggler when they are cooking, looking after the kids and IM-ing their friends on social media at the same time.
Learn to multitask or fall behind in the race as an underserving also-ran, is the message we’re being fed in schools, homes and workplaces.
Yet, this premise couldn’t be further from the truth.
Multitasking isn’t simply an overrated skill. It’s inefficient, ineffective – and sometimes, even downright dangerous.
Why? Because human brains are not designed to multitask. And here’s a very short science lesson to explain this.
When we’re multitasking, we’re using what is known as our short-term memory, which has a very limited capacity to hold information. Studies in the 1950s concluded that our short-term memory can hold up to 7 pieces of information at any given time. But modern research has proved it’s just 2-3.
So, when we’re overloading our short-term brain with multiple tasks, all it can do is let go of the other pieces of information to make space for the new one. In a vicious cycle of accept-and-discard – accomplishing nothing of real value.
One of the things we want to encourage you to think about this week is how you can bring more focused time in your life and accomplish the tasks that really matter. And how you can do it really well by doing just one thing at a time.
# 1:Discourage Novelty Bias
This is a fascinating piece of finding that proves how multitasking comes with multicosts. When we’re working on, say a project on our computer, with a phone nearby and constant access to emails and instant team share platforms where our colleagues are constantly pinging us, we can concentrate on the project for just 35-40 seconds before we get distracted and lose focus.
Something called a novelty bias in our brains actually seeks out these distractions for a quick dose of dopamine, and we can’t resist the urge to keep checking our phone for Facebook notifications, or refresh our email inbox, or feel the urge to respond to a colleague instantly – instead of focusing only on the most important task at hand.
The only way to train our brain in this scenario is to intentionally reduce the environmental chatter. Turn off social media notifications for the time being or keep your phone facing upside down. Tell yourself you will not check on your emails until after you’ve completed the priority task you are working on. This way, it will get so much easier to focus and increase your productivity in any meaningful way.
# 2: Listen To White Noise
If you work in a busy office, it is difficult not to tune in to the conversations and events happening all around you. Listening to white noise while you focus on your work is an extremely effective way to shut out these ambient distractions.
White noise is a sort of soundtrack that combines all different frequencies of sound with equal intensities at once. And since white noise contains all frequencies, it has the capability to mask any interrupting sounds. You will soon tune out the monotonous sound of waterfall or rain or whatever the white noise is masked with, and find you’re feeling more focused – and only focused – on what you’re doing at the moment.
# 3:Take Short Breaks
Break the stranglehold of distraction on your ability to focus by giving your brain the reward of pre-planned breaks. Vigilance decrement, or losing focus over time, is a proven brain behavior, and short breaks in the middle of a long task leaves you feeling reenergized and ready to return with a fresh perspective each time.
# 4:Doodle To Improve Your Focus
Sounds counterintuitive, right? But research has proved that doodling increases focus, helps in memory retention and makes it easier to digest information being imparted audibly. Surely, a huge help if you’re stuck in a long, boring meeting where you’ll likely to tune out or, even worse, fall asleep in the middle of a dull presentation?
(An interesting aside: apparently, 26 of 44 of our American Presidents doodled. Theodore Roosevelt doodled animals and children. Ronald Reagan doodled cowboys and football players. John F. Kennedy doodled dominoes.)
# 5: Climate Control Your Environment
Feeling too hot or too cold can impede your attempts to concentrate. A study from Cornell University has found employees to be most productive and making fewer errors in an environment that is somewhere between 68 and 77 degrees. Another study from the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland pegs the temperature at a definitive 71 degrees.