Much like the glorification of being busy, multitasking has become the norm in our modern culture and our health is paying the price.
Multitasking may seem like a more efficient way to get things done, but it actually hinders your productivity, increases stress levels, and negatively impacts your memory and your happiness. Although many who multitask think they are good at it, research shows we are much more productive when we focus on one single task at a time.
If multitasking is so bad for us, then why are we so eager to do it? Likely, because we receive a possible release of dopamine from the increased stimulation we get from multitasking, resulting in a temporary boost in happiness. The constant distraction, however, can hurt our happiness level in the long term.
Learning How to Mono-Task
If you want to increase your focus, happiness, and reduce stress, learning to mono-task (focusing and completing one thing at a time) is the way to go.
- Practice. At first, focusing on one task at a time may not feel natural or easy. Start small, timing yourself for 20 minutes and focusing on one thing. Over time, increase the intervals to 30, 45, 60 minutes. You may be surprise just how much you can get done in one hour!
- Mind Your Mind. It’s natural for our mind to wander, especially if we have a long to-do list to complete. Anytime your mind wanders to another task or thought, write it down on a piece of paper, and re-focus on the task at hand, giving yourself time to review your notes and scheduling time to address the items on your list before you start on your next task.
- Find Your Natural Rhythm. Some people can focus more in the morning, while others have a surge of adrenaline and motivation in the afternoons or early evenings. Note when you feel most rested, productive, and eager to work. During those peak times, complete tasks that take more time and focus. When attention starts to wain, do easier tasks, such as cleaning, laundry, phone calls, or organizing.
- Kill the Clutter. Whether at home or at the office, clutter is a breeding ground for distraction and stress. Silence your phone, turn off any notifications and the TV, and listen to calming music with no lyrics if it helps you focus.
- Clear Your Digital Playground. Clutter on your digital desktop can pull you in countless directions. When browsing the web, try keeping only one tab open at a time. On your desktop screen, put files into easy-to-find folders and choose a pleasant, motivating background to look at each time you turn your computer on.
- Schedule Time for the Basics. In our modern lives, email and social media are a daily interaction. Instead of “checking one more time” or “just for 5 minutes”, set aside specific time in your calendar to reply to emails and visit social media sites.
Scientifically, multitasking is not what our brain was built for. A return to mono-tasking will be a breath of fresh air for your body and your mind. Be patient with yourself, practice mono-tasking at least once per day, and notice how it impacts your overall productivity and happiness.
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Adapted from 52 Small Changes for the Mind by Brett Blumenthal. Used with permission from Chronicle Books and author Brett Blumenthal.