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Why Multitasking Might be Killing your Work Flow - and How to Stop it


We live in a very busy – and noisy – world. As we go about our days, we are constantly accosted with text messages, advertisements, email notifications, co-workers, and children.

It can be very hard to calm the mind and focus on just one task. When we are focusing on only one task, our brains are at their most efficient.

The temptation to multitask is powerful. Why not make dinner while watching TV while trying to feed the dog? Multitasking often works well when we are busy with tasks that are more rote-memory oriented. We can breathe, walk, and talk at the same time because we inherently know how to do all of these tasks.

The moment your multitasking skills crumble is when you start trying to complete two or more tasks that require significant amounts of brain processing power. We like to think our minds can handle it, but science tells us our brains are only capable of thinking of one thing at a time. That means something else is always getting ignored. When we think we are multitasking, what we are really doing is just switching quickly between tasks.

Humans are actually less efficient when we are multitasking. Our brain has to use more energy to continue switching between tasks than it would use completing them one at a time. In addition, it is difficult to get “in the zone” when trying to do multiple things at once.

What can we do to quiet this extra sensory input and focus on the task at hand? Here are a few things to keep in mind for work or for home:

  1. Prioritize – if you focus on one thing at a time, you will get it done faster and better. Pick something important to do first, and then let the other things fall in line after that. Take time to focus on each task without thinking about the others.

  1. Break the Cycle – it is easy to think that only focusing on one thing is almost luxuriant – and we don’t have the luxury of time. But research shows that multitasking slows you down. Break the cycle of worry that you’re not getting enough done. Doing one thing at a time may seem counterintuitive, but our minds were built that way.

  1. Silence Outside Distractions – we’ve all noticed how difficult it is to focus when our email notifications keep popping up on the screen. Try to quiet outside distractions by turning cell phones on silent, changing your email notification preferences, and reducing stimuli like music or ambient noise. If you feel guilty not checking email for long stretches of time, simply let your coworkers know you are trying to get things done or pretend as though you are out of the office for an hour – whatever keeps you sane.

  1. Put Down your Phone – You know who you are. We are all guilty of this. Checking Facebook in the middle of a meeting is not the greatest use of time. It not only makes you miss information that is being presented, it removes you from the present moment.

  1. Don’t Follow your Brain’s Every Whim – Buddha famously described the way the mind leaps from limb to limb, clamoring for attention as “Monkey Mind”. Oftentimes I will be in the middle of a task, and all of a sudden my mind will have a sudden urge to go look at puppy videos on YouTube. Instead of going straight to YouTube for your instant gratification, try mentally noting or writing down things you want to explore later, when your task is finished. This can be difficult when working online – the Internet is full of sites that include areas of suggested articles, videos, products and more. It is easy to get sucked into the vortex that one fleeting thought created.   

Although multitasking seems like the best way to accomplish things, it really isn’t. By silencing distractions, putting down your phone, and prioritizing, you can open the door to an improved workflow.

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