“In the course of writing this article, I’ve checked Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter, and Reddit. WhatsApp twice. I’ve switched to three other tasks and sent four emails. No, fortunally the irony is not lost on me”
Many people believe that multitasking is the only way they cope in our world of task and information overload but the reality is that the brain is incapable of actually focusing on two things at the same time.
Truthfully nobody can multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process.
A frontal part of the brain called Broadman’s Area 10 is supposedly responsible for the brain switching from task to task, and whereas we may think we are multitasking we are actually getting good at switching from task to task more seamlessly.
So Why do people try to be multitasking ?
The reason was uncovered in a recent study by Zheng Wang at Ohio State University. She tracked students and found that when they multi-tasked, it made them feel more productive, even though in reality they were being unproductive. Other studies found that the more you multitask, the more addicted you get to it.
In addition to this the current generation have started to use this part of the brain better than the previous generation, as switching from homework to Facebook, to using Skype on their phone are normal daily activities. And according to Nick Bilton, lead technology reporter of the New York Times, our brains are adapting, not evolving but adapting to the increased stimulation that modern life brings. Video games may also be responsible for the development of multitasking capability in terms of attention, hand eye coordination and visual and spatial problem solving.
So when people say that is possible to watch television, send emails, tweet and have a conversation with their partner all at the same time, these people are simply task-switching.
If we immagine to attend a meeting or an important summit, while the speaker is doing the speech we can see great part of the audience writing on their laptops, iPads or smartphones. Surely most attendees think they are listening to the talk, but I believe that they are splitting their attention and not all would remember what the speker is really saying.
So the idea that we can work on more than one thing at once is actually wrong.
“Multitasking? I can’t even do two things at once. I can’t even do one thing at once.” — Helena Bonham Carter
Multiple tasks that we are attending to are actually sharing brain time. And there is always a price to be paid when switching tasks. Some research has shown multitasking to reduce productivity by 40%, but like everything in life it depends on what tasks and the importance of full focus while doing it.
Infact if the tasks you are doing are relatively unimportant and don’t require undivided attention to complete, multitasking can help to get more done. But if you have an important job or one that requires particular attention or care, the best solution is to stay focused on it.
But, how we can learn to focus on a single tasks to be more smart and productive. The solution is practising Mindfulness.
The greatest gift of mindfulness is that it teaches us to choose what we want to focus on. It has been shown that practicing mindfulness alters the structure and function of the brain, which makes it easier for us to learn and memorize.
Learning to use our attention in an effective way can help us feel better at the end of the day. Next time you want to do two things at the same time, notice where your attention is going and try to deal with the distractions by bringing your focus back to the task at hand. It’s all about being more mindful about where you place your attention. When you take on each task with full awareness, you make significant progress on your projects, you start appreciating your time, stop wasting it on things that don’t serve you, and dramatically reduce your stress level.
To avoid your multi-tasking habit and become a single-tasking superhero follow this mindfulness tips:
Switch Off as Many Distractions as You Can
Silence your phone, log off from your email account, and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done.
Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.
In particular keep off technology when you’re involved in other activities or around other people.
Then try to look around at your surroundings. Notice the details of anything that catches your eye. What colors, shapes, textures do you notice?
Be curious about that object and wonder about it.
Learn to Watch Your Thoughts
Being aware of your thought patterns, and when your mind drifts to negativity or stress is the heart of mindfulness.
It’s crucial learning to notice when you are holding on to a negative thought toward yourselves or others and find ways to refocus on on kindness and gratitude.
Infact when the body holds on to that thought, tension increases because the stress chemicals adrenaline and cortisol are secreted. In contrast when the focus is on appreciation of gifts of the present moment, the body secretes dopamine and oxytocin, which are calming.
Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work
The good news is you can train your brain to focus better by incorporating mindfulness exercises throughout your day.
The more mindful exercises you do, the easier your brain finds it to drop into a mindful state, thus optimizing your brain function.
For example, when you get to the office, take 10 minutes at your desk or in your car to boost your brain with a short mindfulness practice before you dive into activity.
Close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Place your full focus on your breath. Simply maintain an ongoing flow of attention on the experience of your breathing: inhale, exhale; inhale; exhale.
To help your focus stay on your breathing, count silently at each exhalation.
Any time you find your mind distracted, simply release the distraction by returning your focus to your breath.
Most important, allow yourself to enjoy these minutes.
Throughout the rest of the day, other people and competing urgencies will fight for your attention.
But for these 10 minutes, your attention is all your own.
Monitor Your Progress
Keep a time journal of what you achieve in a block of time. Work out when you’re single-tasking and when you’re multi-tasking. Note down what you achieved in that time block and how mindful you were.
See whether you can notice your productivity going up when you single-task, noticing the benefits can motivate you to do one thing at a time in a mindful way.