If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. -Arthur Rubenstein
Multi-tasking has been a corporate buzzword for years. In a quest to climb the corporate ladder to stay ahead of peers, we” have to have” the latest technology. We are proud to tell our bosses we’re available 24/7. What we’re really doing is increasing stress and decreasing productivity.
In my experience, multi-tasking is the single biggest killer of productivity and personal development. I now believe that a singular focus is the only way to be most productive.
Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of IT, and psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon, constructed an experiment designed to measure the brain power lost when someone is interrupted:
“To simulate the pull of an expected cellphone call or e-mail, we had subjects sit in a lab and perform a standard cognitive skill test. In the experiment, 136 subjects were asked to read a short passage and answer questions about it. There were three groups of subjects; one merely completed the test. The other two were told they ‘Might be contacted for further instructions’ at any moment via instant message.”
During the first test, the second and third groups were interrupted twice. During the second test, only the second group was interrupted. The third group awaited an interruption that never came.
To say the results were troublesome would be an understatement. Both of the interrupted groups answered correctly 20 percent less often than members of the control group, meaning interruptions made them 20 percent “dumber.”
Here are five ways I’ve found to improve focus:
Put down your phone. When you’re with people, focus on the people.
Prioritize your to-do list. Start with the highest priority and move on only when you have completed that task. Don’t give other tasks mental real estate.
Turn off your email. Don’t even have email open if you want to stay focused. Schedule time to look at email when you want.
Turn off all notifications. Technology is great, or not. I can get notified (interrupted) when someone posts a new Tweet or Facebook post. I can get notified (interrupted) when an email comes in. I can get notified (interrupted) when a program on my computer needs updating, and the list goes on and on. Stop letting your technology manage you.
Take breaks to clear your mind and think. Some of my best ideas come at 3 in the morning. Why? Because I have no other distractions, nothing else crowding my mind. Adult educators will tell you that adults can pay attention for only 90 minutes at a time. Schedule a 5-minute mental break a few times throughout the day to just sit and daydream. You’ll find your best solutions will come at those times.
In Peter Bregman’s book 18 Minutes, He says: “We don’t actually multitask. We switch-task. And it’s inefficient, unproductive, and sometimes even dangerous. Resist the temptation.”
Want to be more productive? Want to get more things done? Stop trying to do them all at once. Prioritize and do tasks one at a time.