You think you are good at it but did you know it could be hurting your health...
Long day at the office, trying to get piles of work done between meetings and co-worker questions, lunch at your desk as you try to use each minute wisely so that you can rush home, as much as traffic will allow. As you wait in traffic, you try to plan dinner, thinking about what ingredients you have to work with and what you need to get from the store, catch up with friends on your blue tooth as you drive, and maybe take care of some last minute plans with the family before heading to the gym. When you get home, you listen to children chatting about their day, as you start to make dinner, and of course, the house needs to be tidied up before your company gets there, or maybe you need to rush out the door for soccer practice. As you fall into bed, you have no memory of what you did today; you just know that you were very busy all day. Sound familiar?
Our society is constantly sending a message that we must be good at multitasking if we want to succeed. We have smart phones to make multitasking easier, job advertisements tell us we must be able to multitask, and our family schedule would never work if we didn’t multitask. We do all this even though research shows that multitasking decreases our efficiency, [i] can hinder our ability to learn,[ii] and can even decrease our ability to self-control. [iii]
Different tasks require different mindsets. When we do two things at once, our brains can only focus on one thing at a time, so as we change tasks, we have to change mindsets. Our brains need to recognize that we are stopping one mindset, recognize the new mindset, and then focus on that. As we switch back and forth, we lose efficiency. You do a better job when you can do the entire task before changing mindsets.
When learning a new task, it is best to stay focused on only the new task because our minds file information while we are focused for easy retrieval later. If we multitask, our brain spends its energy on the details, and does not file it the way it does when we are focused. So our memory of the task will not be as good as if we are focused only on the learning.
On the other hand, when we use multitasking with media, we lose our ability to control our impulses. When our minds are being constantly stimulated by the media, it reduces our ability to filter out the nonessential stimuli, and irrelevant tasks.
Additionally, multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones that cause long term health problems if not controlled.
So, knowing this, why do we do it? It is time to stop and smell the roses. It is time to take control of our brain, and do life one thing at a time. Here are some tips for limiting the multitasking we do during the day.
· Start Your Day Focused Start your day with an intensive project for 90 minutes then take a break. Starting with focus sets you up for all day focus.
· Put Away Media Don’t use media at work. It is amazing how many times we check our phones, and don’t realize it. These little distractions add up.
· Batch "Like-Mindsets": Set specific times to check your email and phone calls. Do projects that work with numbers together, then do things that require other processes like writing. When the kids are chatting, listen intently. They are important to us, but we often miss out on some of the things they say because we are multitasking.
· Get Away For Lunch: Don’t eat at your desk. Use your lunch time to relax, and refresh.
· Make A List: Make a list of your duties, and then estimate the time it takes to complete them. Test the accuracy of your estimates, and adjust your schedule based on the actual time it takes. This gives you an idea of how much time you need free from distraction.
· Plan Distractions: Set times for outside distractions like co-worker interaction. Train people about what times are best for you to be interrupted, and what times you must not be interrupted.
· Use External Memory: You can use things such as paper, or technology to take notes about things that you will need to do later, instead of switching back and forth between different tasks.
Once you are able to focus on one thing at a time, you will be less stressed, and have more opportunities to stop and enjoy the things you don’t notice when you are busy multitasking.
Don't Forget to Ask for Help: Sometimes stress can get to be too much. We all have coping mechanisms but it is important to know when you may need extra help from an expert on how to better cope with your busy life. A counselor can help to put things in perspective and help you gain a greater sense of joy in you life. Get help before you have developed bad habits or have hurt your relationships. You do not need to suffer!
[i]Hamilton, Ryan, Vohs, Kathleen, Sellier, Anne-Laure and Meyvis, Tom, Being of Two Minds: Switching Mindsets Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources (2010). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes .
[ii] "Russell Poldrack: Multi-Tasking Adversely Affects the Brain's Learning Systems — UCLA Psychology Department: Home." UCLA Psychology — UCLA Psychology Department: Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2013.
[iii] "Cognitive control in media multitaskers." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2013.