First, let’s define and explain what ‘multitasking’ means here.
-(Of one person) to perform two or more tasks simultaneously
-Switching back and forth from one thing to another
Some common situations involving multitasking:
Texting and driving, or eating and driving
Talking to a co-worker and working on a separate task
Reading with the TV on in the background
Watching TV and texting at the same time
Switching back and forth from studying to cooking
Listening to music while writing up an email
How many of these do you, or have you done?
I have pretty much done them all at one time or another. Important note: this is not a segway into self-judgement, but if you do want to make a change, awareness is key and is the first step.
Our culture has been built on multitasking. Up to this point, multitasker or not, you have been doing the best you can with the information you have been “programmed” with since you were a child.
For me personally, an avid (recovering) multitasker, I grew up in multitasking savvy environments. In all the jobs I have worked up to this point, major multitasking was a requirement. More likely than not, you can relate to this. In our personal lives, we are constantly faced with external stimuli and in response, internal feedback. With our phones always next to us, usually with notifications popping up every other minute, it is difficult to actually stay focused on one task at hand.
Okay so at this point you are probably asking why you shouldn’t be bragging about your multitasking skills. Reality is, the human brain was not designed to multitask. Because of the biological wiring of our brains, any time we are multitasking, our brains process information at a slower rate. Studies have shown that multitasking actually decreases the quality of work produced.
UGH, I know…when you are multitasking it can feel like you are accomplishing so much more, like hitting two birds with one stone, but sadly it is not the case.
I see multitasking as multiple forms of information overload. Think about it… how do you feel after hearing too much information at once of a topic you may not be educated in or like? For me it would be a lecture in Calculus or Econ. I know that I would most likely feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or confused.
Now imagine two or more sources, completely different in topic, bombarding you with information at the same time. Like a lecture in O-Chem and Physics all at once.
I don’t know about you, but I would be ready for bed…or ready to buy every earplug on the market and a one-way ticket to the Cast Away Island to escape.
In all seriousness, multitasking can be damaging to your brain!
All that work you are doing at the same time-like juggling e-mails, talking to your co-workers, writing an “Alien Abduction” guide for new trainees- is actually slowing your brain productivity down and decreasing creativity, output, and performance.
I literally multitasked my way for 4 years in a position where the above example was an everyday occurrence. I would be exhausted after a couple hours and would never understand why. It wasn’t until recently when I discovered the multitasking curse when I stopped and noticed the environment and the circumstances I was working in. I made a conscious decision that, to the best of my abilities, I would set myself up for peak performance and brain function success. Because at the end of the work day who wants to be a zombie and not have a social life? It ain’t fun let me tell you. In order to protect precious brain power and, in a way, bio-hack your way into increased focus, creativity, and overall work performance, here are some tips that I have found to be very helpful:
When you are working on a task, try to limit other distractions the best you can. This will help you stay focused at the task at hand with no switching back and forth.
Work without the TV, radio, or music on.
Work solo for the tasks that demand a lot from you. If this is not possible, try earplugs or noise cancelling headphones. If that is not possible, you can use the beautiful ability we have to communicate with others, and mention to the people around you that you want to stay focused and will be on the computer (or whatever you’re doing) for X amount of time. Then set a timer and get to work.
Keep one web browser open at a time.
Maximize the browser that you are working on so you are not distracted with any other applications or notifications on your computer.
Keep your work table/desk clean and clutter free. The more items in your eyesight, the more your brain has to filter out (even if you are not consciously aware of it). Help your brain and declutter your zone before you start to work.
Put your phone in your bag or in another room while you work for X amount of time
I keep my phone facing down so that I am not distracted when the screen lights up with a notification.
If you are working in a public area, try to find the most secluded spot with the least amount of cross traffic. Again the more items, or in this case people or cars, in your eyesight, the more your brain has to filter out. This can take away from your ability to focus more effectively on the task at hand.
Turn off notifications:
This plays off the last point. Do yourself, your work, and the people who are around you a favor and turn off the notifications in your social media accounts, email accounts, and if you are really in it, for text messages 😱
Turn off sounds and noises that are associated with notifications- Mail, text, call, doorbells, you name it. If you have an important task at hand- mute it all.
Put your phone on Do Not Disturb or Airplane mode.
Pro Tip: I tell my boyfriend beforehand that I am about to be working for a couple hours and the phone will be going on Airplane mode so I will text/call him when the block of time is up! Communication is key…more on this in a second.
Set times for checking text messages and emails:
Create specific email/text message checking time periods throughout the day. Maybe once in the morning, once around noon, and once in the PM.
The point is to avoid constantly refreshing your email inbox every other minute while doing another task on your phone or computer.
I force quit my Mail while working on my computer so I am not tempted by the sound effects of incoming mail or the red notifications of new messages.
For text messages, if you regularly check your phone for messages, try setting times throughout the day where you check your phone.
Remember that communication is key tip? If you receive a lot of calls, emails, or texts you can create a version of “office hours” where you inform people of the timing when you will respond back to messages. You can do this in your voicemail message and/or in your email signature. They will appreciate knowing when to expect a response from you.
Pick up time blocking, which is an effective method for task productivity and increasing performance based on individual needs and capabilities.
Do the more demanding tasks first thing, or when you know your productivity abilities are highest. Try not to leave the demanding tasks for the end of the work day when your brain is pretty much checked out.
Try the Pomodoro Technique, where you work on a single task for 25 minutes, then take 5 minute break and move around, do what you gotta do, before you move onto the next task at hand for another 25 minutes.
Breaking up your working segments like this will help give your brain a “break” and can result in increased productivity.
Time blocking decreases the urge or tendency to switch back and forth to separate tasks every other minute, which has shown to be a less productive and inefficient way to work.
Practicing mindfulness and staying in the present moment will help you perform one task at a time. This is not easy, which is why its is called a practice, but if you practice it daily it will become like second nature to you. Try to practice it for short amounts of time in the beginning, like 15 minutes, and then gradually increase from there. You will be surprised how much you can get done on one single task if you give it your full attention.
What are some ways that you increase productivity? Does it involve multitasking? If so, you may want to re-think the way you work or perform everyday tasks and try focusing on one task at a time. Use the tips above and see how you feel afterwards- your brain will definitely thank you.
If you have any other tips you want to share, or if you try any of my tips- let me know!
Don’t forget to share this post with someone who is a multitasking queen or king (no judgement)
and who can use this information to increase their productivity and performance!