It seems like we are a nation of multitaskers: Every day I see people engaged in various activities, but oftentimes they are not focused and really present in what they do. I see people in the park walking their dog while texting on their phone, driving while applying their makeup, and sending emails during meetings. Life can feel so busy that it seems the only way to get things done is by multitasking. But at what cost?
Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The study determined that people who are regularly inundated with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.
Even more alarming, a study at the University Of London showed that subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant drops in IQ.
We all know what it feels like to do multiple things at once. I used to eat lunch at my desk while continuing to work and had many conversations with my Mom where she had to ask if I was still listening, since my mind would wander. But multitasking makes it impossible to be truly present in the moment. As a result, it affects the quality of our relationships, our work and our life.
I was recently meeting with a colleague over lunch and while we were talking, she kept on getting distracted by things around us and wasn’t able to fully focus on the conversation. As a result, it was really difficult to feel connected and have a deeper conversation. I have clients who have shared how much email consumes their day and how the constant flow of incoming email makes it difficult to get their work done. And I know fewer families who all sit down together to eat meals without any distractions than I did while growing up.
So what can we do to get out of the destructive multitasking habit?
Here are 3 ideas that will allow you to focus and be more present, think more clearly, and be more productive
- Limit when you check your email (and Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
Changing their email habits has made a tremendous difference for many of my clients. Choose set times when you will check your email (for example: In the morning after setting your priorities for the day, mid-morning, after lunch, and mid-afternoon) and stick to it. Shut down your email and turn off any email notifications during the other times. This will also allow you to focus on what’s really important, rather than prioritizing other people’s agendas.
- Commit to doing one thing at a time
When you go for a walk, really allow yourself to be present and enjoy your walk. If you are having a conversation with someone, really be there with that person and listen deeply. When you are having a meal, really enjoy your food by slowly savoring each bite.
- Create space in your life
Your brain needs rest in order to be productive. Set up a meditative practice in the morning. Take regular breaks throughout the day. For more details, see Do You Have Enough Space In Your Life?