In our culture of multitaskers, we attempt to accomplish more by doing several things at once. But here’s the rub: Multitasking fails us. Why? Because it doesn’t work.
In reality, multitasking decreases our productivity. And by no small measure: as much as 40 percent.
Researchers and neuroscientists around the world, including those at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of London, agree that multitasking is a problem. It not only hurts our productivity but also lowers our IQs and shrinks our brains.
Moreover, consider the personal, economic, and social toll of distracted driving. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 report they had read or sent text or email messages while driving within the last 30 days. Worse, a whopping 69 percent report they had talked on their cell phone.
What’s our stressed-out society to do? One word: singletasking.
By singletasking you’ll be more productive and present. Plus like any other skill, singletasking can be learned or relearned over time. Soon enough you’ll be singletasking your way to success and sanity at work and in life.
Start here with seven simple tips:
1. Accept that your brain is not built to multitask.
Your brain is incapable of simultaneously processing separate streams of information from multiple tasks. That’s because there’s “interference” between the two tasks, says MIT’s Dr. Earl Miller. So, in actuality, multitasking is a myth; it simply doesn’t exist. What you’re really doing is task-switching—moving rapidly and ineffectively between tasks.
2. Build up your concentration.
How often do you meet someone and instantly forget her name? Your mind was distracted—preoccupied with something else entirely. The inability to concentrate on a name or conversation is evidence of what I deem SBS—Scattered Brain Syndrome. Singletasking isn’t only about getting things done. It’s also about developing focus. Living in the present will affect the very essence of your life, career, and relationships.
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3. Control your environment.
It’s up to you to “build fences” to keep potential distractions, such as noise and pop-ups, at bay. Rather than blame technology and your family or colleagues, take control of your space and gadgets. For example, before a conference call at work, close your door or put a “Quiet” Post-it note outside your cubicle. Mute all chimes, ringers, and pings, and turn off visual alerts and social media messaging.
4. Immerse yourself in one thing at a time.
Singletasking obliges you to do one thing at a time—excluding any other demands at that moment. So stand your ground and fully commit to your present choice. You can manage your next task after working on the existing one. You don’t have to complete every task all at once, just the current period of time dedicated to it.
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5. Manage extraneous thoughts quickly and systematically.
Singletasking doesn’t require you to discard distracting thoughts. Instead, it provides simple systems to set them aside until you can redirect your mind. One technique is to “park” other ideas in a designated spot, such as a notes page on your smartphone, and then quickly return to the current endeavor.
6. Cluster related tasks.
Does reading and replying to texts, emails, and social media messages lure you away from bigger, more important projects? Then practice clustertasking—a technique whereby you bunch related tasks into specific segments during the day. At the office, for instance, you could cluster your emailing to three segments daily—into arrival, lunch, and departure times.
7. Carve out regular time for quiet reflection.
The average human attention span is eight seconds—one second less than the attention span of a goldfish—reports the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In a noisy world with 24/7 news, you’re bombarded by distractions as, unfortunately, your brain becomes trained to avoid quiet reflection. So next time you’re “busy” surfing the Web, ask yourself if you’re really just sidestepping solitude or introspection. Carve out a little time each day to be left alone with your thoughts.
Ready? Of course you are. Stop the madness—and start singletasking. You will reclaim your life, regain control, and remember what really matters. One task at a time, you will achieve success and sanity at work and in life.
Devora Zack, CEO of Only Connect Consulting, Inc., is the author of three books, published globally in as many as 25 languages. Her new release is Singletasking: Get More Done—One Thing at a Time (Berrett-Koehler). An international expert in leadership development, she is an award-winning keynote speaker, consultant, and coach. Visit myonlyconnect.com.