By Elle Balchin, Rehabilitation Consultant – OT
How many times have you heard the phrase “I’m a great multi-tasker” thrown around proudly like a badge of honour? As much as I think we like to believe multi-tasking is the best way to get a bunch of things done at once, in reality, the research shows that you’re actually far less efficient when multi-tasking than single-tasking.
But how can this be?
Multi-tasking tricks our brains into thinking we are being more productive than we actually are. In reality, nobody can genuinely do a bunch of things at once – In actual fact, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, and often losing data in the process. It can take up to 15 whole minutes to get back to work after answering an email – that’s 15 lost minutes of productivity where you otherwise could have been working conscientiously!
We have a knack for wasting our finite pool of attention by funnelling it into lower priority tasks such as Emails. Neurologically, this is because completing small, quick tasks releases a tiny hit of dopamine each time, which is what makes monitoring and answering emails so addictive!
So how do we stop?
- Make an appointment with work – schedule time to complete tasks that you know you’re going to need extra time and focus to do.
- During your scheduled time to complete a task, focus on one specific deliverable to be accomplished and deny yourself the temptation to self-interrupt to answer the phone or respond to an email. Set a timer, and consciously focus on that task until either the task is complete, or the timer runs out.
- Ignore your phone and emails while you’re trying to complete other tasks – in our office we have decided to turn off email pop-up notifications, so you can’t see you’re getting them until you choose to look. This has assisted to improve focussed attention. You can always return those phone calls and respond to your emails in another block of time that HASN’T already been dedicated to this particular task.
- Keep a list – when a new task pops into your mind during your focussed time that tempts you to self-interrupt and change gears, write it down, and address the list after you’re finished doing what you’re doing.
- Do a quick mindfulness activity as you’re about to start your focussed time – this helps you to centre your attention on the task at hand, and starts you off with your mind in a place of full attention and focus.
- Schedule time off – once you finish a task, let yourself have a little rest before moving onto the next one! This rewards your brain for completing a task, which will give you a small dopamine hit, the same as other smaller/ easier tasks might have done.