No matter how hard you try, there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish all the tasks on your list. Under that kind of pressure, your brain wants to switch tasks and keep a few things going at once. Did you know that’s actually slowing down your productivity? Let’s look at why and how to quit multitasking.
Understanding why your brain prefers to switch between tasks can help you figure out how to improve your focus. Picture how your life looks when you’re sitting in your office at work. You likely have multiple tabs open in your internet browser. Perhaps you’re checking emails while also researching information, browsing through social media, and chatting with friends.
With so many things going on, your brain focuses on more than one task. You could make the conscious decision not to click over to your email or social networking page, but you can’t help doing it. In truth, your brain likes multitasking.
“Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. To make matters worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that its attention can be easily hijacked by something new – the proverbial shiny objects we use to entice infants, puppies, and kittens,” explains neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin in his column for The Guardian.
Put simply, your brain gets a dose of joy while switching tasks.
The problem with multitasking is that while you have gone on to another task, part of your brain has remained focused on the task you were working on. When you switch back and forth so often, you constantly must remind yourself what it is you are doing. That kind of behavior can diminish your productivity by approximately 40%. Many people think they can multitask efficiently, but only 2% of the population can switch between tasks without a decrease in quality.
It’s absolutely necessary to learn to handle one task at a time because the most important tasks require uninterrupted attention so as not to fall into the sea of mediocrity. Multitasking will strip your passion of excellence, slowly allowing an “okay job” to rise to the top.
Just because your brain is so used to multitasking doesn’t mean it’s an impossible habit to break. There are ways you can stop multitasking in its tracks and improve your ability to focus. Here are four tips to help you quit multitasking and get more things done.
1. Clean and organize your work area.
Having a spic and span work area helps you to stay focused and limits the level of distraction. Get rid of excess items that are sitting on your desk and keep only those things that are absolutely necessary.
Did you know that the mess on your table is likely to be a mirror into your mind? Well, with a disorganized desk you will have real trouble staying focused on one task at a time. More often than not, an item on the top of your desk will steal your attention and lower the level of your concentration.
If you have a clean workspace in front of you, your brain is more capable of zeroing in and focusing on the task at hand. Get a cheap pencil holder for your pens and pencils or place them in a drawer. Organize your office supplies on your desk, and make sure you have nothing in your way. You will find that your brain is far more capable of focusing when your workspace is clean.
2. Set blocks of time for each item on your to-do list.
One of the most productive ways to quit multitasking is to set aside a block of time for each scheduled task. You see, a to-do list is just … well … a list of things you need to do. And it gives you more flexibility when you need to do things in it, so there is a good chance you do easy things till you’re too tired or demotivated to do most important tasks.
Time blocks, on the other hand, give you less chance to escape from doing the hard and significant things first. It’s like making an appointment with yourself. If you scheduled your task, you made a commitment to accomplish it within a certain period of time. Not only does it force you to prioritize—because there is limited time, you can’t just pick and choose your favorite tasks on the abstract to-do list—it also helps you get things done.
Vilfredo Pareto, a renowned economist known for his Pareto principle (20% of the invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained), couldn’t have put it better. A to-do list based on his 20/80 rule would produce the most results from the unit of time invested. By focusing on the single, most important task, you will realize high productivity within a short period of time.
Being in a position to allocate the appropriate amount of time to each task, you will enhance your productivity immensely. It implies that you will allocate time and put in effort to handle each task with full concentration.
3. Eliminate distractions
Did you know that distraction is the leading cause of low productivity in the workplace today? Even worse, multitasking can be considered a form of distraction as your brain can only handle one thing at a time.
How can you start to eliminate distractions? Use digital devices to become more productive, not vice versa. Social media platforms are at the top of the list of side tabs that we keep open when working on other tabs.
We allow notifications from Facebook, HipChat, and Gmail to distract us from what we’re currently focusing on. We keep apps that we don’t use on our phones and continue checking the pop-ups on them. Ask yourself if these notifications serve your goals and dreams, or just distract you from what’s really important. Are they really worth your attention? Chances are, it’s just useless information 99% of the time, and it just steals your focus.
Opening browser tabs that are only related to the task you are currently working on will help you to focus on one thing at a time. Turn off all social media notifications that you don’t need. Use a browser extension to temporarily block websites that distract you.
It’s a good idea to check your emails only two to three times a day within an allocated time period. Have a schedule that allows you to read messages and make calls when you are taking a break.
If your workplace is somewhat noisy, use sound eliminating headphones to shut off distracting noises. Try music that will help you to focus as well as enhance your productivity.
Finally, teach people around you that you value your time. As a result, they will interrupt you less often, and you will be able to accomplish more.
4. Get enough sleep
At times, choosing between sleep and completing a given task can be a daunting process, especially when you have a lot on your plate. Some people opt for work over sleep, but the truth is that depriving yourself of enough sleep will have a negative impact on your productivity, health, and happiness.
According to a Harvard research report, lack of enough sleep leads to a loss of 11.3 days worth of work productivity, equivalent to $2,280 annually.
How do you get a good night’s sleep? First, avoid caffeine as well as alcohol toward the end of the day. Caffeine will keep you awake for the better part of the night, and the effects will be seen at your workplace since you will be less productive.
Second, have a regular sleep pattern, a specific time to go to bed and a specific time to wake up. By tuning your body to a sleep routine, your brain will develop a certain time when it is alert and most productive.
Third, don’t eat large or heavy meals before you go to sleep. This may not go well with your sleep pattern. Large meals will keep your body alert and keep you from falling asleep.
Finally, control your exposure to light for one to two hours before going to bed. Bright, bluish light will hinder your body from producing melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep and wakefulness, and it can prevent you from having a restful night.
Despite the fact that our brains like to multitask, we need to be able to focus in order to accomplish our goals and enhance our productivity. Sometimes, multitasking is seen as a good thing and even rewarded, but on taking a closer look, you will find that it compromises your productivity.
Staying organized at your work, maintaining an effective schedule, minimizing distractions, and getting a good night’s sleep will boost your productivity and help you improve your focus. At first, handling one task a time can be challenging, but once we master this valuable skill, there is much to gain from it.
About the author: Iryna Nikolaienko is a productivity enthusiast and aimful.co founder. She uses her design skills to create things that help people be happier, hit their goals and reach their full potential. She’s also into technology and loves to spend her time developing UI for web applications.