| Multitasking is endemic in our fast-paced technological world - we text while walking down the street, we do business in our cars, we surf the net while making dinner.
Women are multitaskers by nature, having been forced into it in cave man days by being responsible for everything while our men went out to hunt down our dinner. We boast that our ability to multitask is an 'asset' - and mention it as a strength on resumes and job applications. However, brain research now shows us that multitasking is an unproductive and potentially damaging way to work.
Shocking but true -it appears that the cave man had it right all along...uni-tasking, single-tasking, mono-tasking... can be the most productive way to work. The efficiency of multitasking is an illusion. We think we are getting more things done, but in actual fact, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%.
We aren't actually multitasking - we are 'switching-tasks' and interrupting ourselves every time we 'switch'. The brain has to start and refocus to switch tasks and the time it takes to do that is wasted time. Interrupting one task to focus on another can disrupt short term memory, and negatively affect productivity and creativity as you never get fully into the 'zone' for either of the activities. We make more mistakes as we overwhelm our brain's frontal cortex.
Multitasking rote tasks at the same time that are auto-behaviours can work (e.g. / folding laundry while watching TV). However, trying to accomplish different mental tasks that require some level of focus and attention doesn't work. Our brains aren't equipped for multitasking things that require critical brainpower.
If you have been feeling unfocused lately it is time to experiment with easy strategies to begin to master Uni-tasking. Your brain will thank you.
5 Strategies to Increase Focus through Uni-tasking
1/ CREATE SEGMENTED UNI-FOCUS BLOCKS:
Create focused work segments of no longer than one hour in duration and focus on one task or project per uni-focus block. Pick a project, set your timer, turn off your email/phone beeps/alerts etc, and focus for one hour on one thing. Block the segments, and then give yourself a reward when the timer goes off at one hour (no cheating!)
2/CREATE UNI-FOCUS BATCHES:
Doing things in focused batches is more efficient E.g. / pay your bills all at once, send your emails all at once, organize files all at once. Plan like-minded things together and create those uni-focus batches at times that fit your levels of mental acuity. Work on creative endeavours when you are feeling most mentally refreshed, choose more linear-type activities when you are hungry or tired.
3/ MANAGE TECHNOLOGY INTERRUPTIONS:
Studies show that being distracted by incoming calls or emails while working lowers your IQ by 10 points which is the equivalent of missing a night of sleep. Practicing this step requires self-discipline. After you finish your email Uni-focus batch (see #2), close your email program down until the next scheduled email Uni-focus batch. Shut your ringers/beeps and whistles off and work on one project at a time.
Manage your technology interruptions in your personal time as well to enhance your ability to be present (see#4)
4/ CREATE STRUCTURED OBSESSING BLOCKS:
Often the most pervasive mental un-focuser is a persistent thought or worry rather than an actual task. That thought has the same effect as a task because you keep mentally 'switching' back to it. Worried about something? Watch your focus and productivity diminish. If that is the case, allow yourself structured obsessing blocks. Choose a time period that works for you - say a 15 minute block - set the timer and allow yourself to obsess about the thing you are worried about for a full 15 minutes. There's a catch - once the timer goes off, you cannot obsess again until the next scheduled 'obsessing block'.
5/ EXPERIMENT WITH 'BEING PRESENT' :
Experiment with any of these 'being present' strategies and feel how focusing on just 'one thing' improves your mental state and opens up cerebral bandwidth and new discoveries.
- Eat your dinner without external stimulation like watching TV. Notice the taste and texture of the food as it goes in your mouth.
-When you are hanging with your kids, focus on them fully. Stay curious and see how your 'play' unfolds.
-Unplug while taking transit, or walking down the street. Notice your surroundings, the people, the smells, the sights and sounds. At the end of the day, challenge yourself - what did you notice? Share with a friend.
-If commuting by car, leave the radio off and let your thoughts drift wherever they want to go. What new thoughts popped into your head?
- Having an important conversation with your partner? Studies have shown that even having your phone on the table beside you on silent causes mistrust. Put your phone in another room and turn off the ringer to be 100% present.
-Morning wakeup intention: Before doing anything else, spend 30 seconds upon waking up focusing on your breathing. As you do so, recite to yourself "I am alive" This is going to be a great day!" Watch how that shapes your mental focus.