This is a guest post by Devora Zack.
We are a culture of multitaskers. Maybe (gasp!) you’re even one yourself. With too much to do in too little time, you most likely attempt to accomplish more by doing several things at once.
Here’s the problem: Multitasking fails you. Why? Because it doesn’t work.
Acclaimed researchers and neuroscientists, including those at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of London, agree that multitasking is trouble. In addition to lessening your productivity, it also lowers your IQ and shrinks your brain.
Not to mention the personal, economic, and social toll of distracted driving. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 report they had read or sent text or email messages while driving within the last 30 days. Worse, a whopping 69 percent report they had talked on their cell phone.
So what’s our stressed-out society to do? One word: singletasking.
By singletasking you’ll be more productive and present. Plus, like many other skills, singletasking is one you can easily learn or relearn. With simple instruction and steady practice, you can singletask your way to success and sanity.
Here are seven ways to get started:
1. Realize that multitasking is a myth.
Your brain is incapable of simultaneously processing separate streams of information from multiple tasks. That’s because there’s “interference” between the two tasks, says MIT’s Dr. Earl Miller. So, in actuality, multitasking doesn’t exist. What you’re really doing is task-switching—the technical term for moving rapidly and ineffectively between tasks.
2. Commit to your choices.
Singletasking obliges you to do one thing at a time—excluding any other demands at that moment. This means you must stand firm and genuinely commit to your choices. You can manage your next task after working on the existing one. You don’t have to complete every task all at once, just the current period of time dedicated to it.
3. Discipline your brain.
How often do you meet someone and instantly forget her name? This indicates that your mind was distracted—preoccupied with something else entirely. The inability to concentrate on a name or conversation is evidence of what I deem SBS—Scattered Brain Syndrome. Singletasking isn’t only about getting things done. It’s also about developing focus. Living in the present will affect the very essence of your life, including work, relationships, and everything else that matters to you.
4. Park extraneous thoughts.
Singletasking doesn’t require you to discard distracting thoughts. Instead, it provides simple systems to set them aside until you can redirect your mind. One technique is to “park” other ideas in a designated place, such as a notes page on your smartphone, and then quickly return to the current endeavor.
5. Build fences.
At work, it’s up to you to control your environment—to “build fences” to keep potential distractions, such as noise and pop-ups, at bay. Rather than blame technology or colleagues, take control of your workspace and gadgets. For example, before a conference call, close your door or put a “Quiet” Post-it note outside your cubicle. Mute all chimes, ringers, and pings, and turn off visual alerts and social media messaging.
6. Practice clustertasking.
Does reading and replying to texts, emails, and social media messages lure you away from bigger, more important projects? Then try clustertasking—a technique whereby you bunch related tasks into specific segments during the day. At the office, for instance, you could cluster your emailing to three segments daily—into arrival, lunch, and departure times.
7. Grow your attention span.
The average human attention span is eight seconds—one second less than the attention span of a goldfish—reports the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In a noisy world with 24/7 news, you’re bombarded by distractions as, tragically, your brain becomes trained to avoid quiet reflection. So next time you’re “busy” surfing the Web, ask yourself if you’re really just sidestepping solitude and introspection. Carve out a little time each day to be left alone with your thoughts.
Stop the madness—and start singletasking. You will reclaim your life, regain control, and remember what really matters.
Devora Zack, CEO of Only Connect Consulting, Inc., is the author of three books, published globally in as many as 25 languages.
Her new release is Singletasking: Get More Done—One Thing at a Time (Berrett-Koehler). An international expert in leadership development, she is an award-winning keynote speaker, consultant, and coach.