Despite the pressure to multitask in our increasingly frantic world, experts warn about the dangers of multitasking – lowering our IQs, shrinking our brains and even decreasing our productivity. Instead of multitasking, experts are now extoling the virtues of singletasking.
Devora Zack, author of the new book Singletasking: Get More Done – One Thing at a Time, says multitasking is a myth. “The brain cannot be in two places at once, so what people are referencing as multitasking is actually what neuroscientists call task switching and that means rapidly moving back and forth between different tasks,” says Zack.
Task switching, she says, not only lowers productivity by 40 percent but it also shrinks our brains. “When you overload your brain trying to get it to task switch, you shrink the grey matter in your brain,” she says.
Task switching can even be life threatening. “Texting while driving has surpassed driving under the influence as the number one cause of fatal car accidents,” says Zack.
Singletasking, she argues, is working with our brains the way they were created. It means keeping your brain and body in the same place and focused on one thing at a time. When you’re in a meeting, for example, both your body and your brain should be in the meeting rather than your brain running all over the place thinking about all the things you need to do later that day.
While you may think singletasking will result in you getting less done, Zack says the opposite is true. “You can get more done in the course of the day if at any given moment you’re fully and intensely immersed in the task at hand,” she says.
How to singletask:
It’s very hard to keep your brain focused once a distraction has already occurred. If you’re staring at your computer screen while on a conference call, for example, and a pop-up message comes on the screen, it’s almost impossible to resist at least looking at it, and maybe even responding to it. To avoid distractions, Zack recommends anticipating those distractions before they occur. Turn off auditory dings, pop-ups, or turn away from the computer screen to avoid these inevitable distractions.
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This is a particularly beneficial technique with email. With constant email bombardment, it’s common to find that we’ve been super busy during the day but haven’t really accomplished the things we’d hoped to get done. Zack advises cluster-tasking emails, checking three times a day (in the morning, after lunch and before leaving at the end of the day). Following this technique, email will take up less of your day to allow you to be more focused and productive during the other tasks you have to do than if you’re splitting your time into tiny pieces all day long because you’re checking and answering email every five minutes.
Manage extraneous thoughts.
We all have distracting thoughts that enter our brains when we’re trying to focus on the task at hand. Singletasking doesn’t mean avoiding these thoughts but does mean setting them aside, or “parking them” in a designated spot so you can redirect your mind. Jot down distracting thoughts on a Post-It, then quickly return to the task that requires your concentration.
Carve out time for reflection.
A study from Harvard Business School found that people who rested for at least 15 minutes a day and practiced quiet reflection increased their performance by an average of 23 percent. Carving out some time to be alone with your thoughts gives your brain a break from the hectic information overload that surrounds us most of the time.