Why You Should Forget ‘Multi-Tasking’Posted: 21st of August 2015 by
When was the last time you concentrated on just one thing without distractions? You may think that you were fully focused as you sat watching that programme TV, but there is a good chance you were distracted by checking your phone, social media, or something else. We are all quite used to doing several things at once, and things can be even worse at work! Being able to ‘multi-task’ is often seen as a desirable skill, but could it all just be a myth? Could the very act of multi-tasking actually harm your health, cause stress, and actually lower your productivity? So says Devora Zack in her book, ‘Singletasking,’ which addresses the dangers of taking on too much at once, while offering a simple alternative.
Zack, who works as a leadership consultant for several large companies, uses scientific evidence to demonstrate that multi-tasking can have a harmful effect on the brain. Rather than getting more done, taking on too much competing stimuli can actually shrink the prefrontal cortex in your brain and lower your IQ. As the brain struggles to keep up, the stress hormone cortisol is released – making you more agitated, emotional, and less resilient. This leads to a loss of productivity and the potentially health-threatening stress to build.
Zack recommends that we should actually do the exact opposite of multi-tasking, and try to become fully immersed in the task at hand. Doing this creates what she calls ‘flow state,’ a state of mind that actually increases your ability to do a task. As you focus on what you are doing your competence actually increases above our normal levels, meaning you can do more, and better than when you are trying to juggle several things at once. We often enter ‘flow state’ when we are doing something we love – those moments when you are fully engaged with what you are doing – from cooking to playing a game on the Playstation. This same effect can be achieved in other areas of life – provided you let give yourself the time and space to focus.
Zack notes that the process of ‘single-tasking’ may become difficult due to your own mind interrupting what you are doing with other thoughts. However, she recommends that you try not to become distracted, instead making a note (mental or otherwise) and coming back to it later.
Perhaps more difficult is Zack’s recommendation that we put our mobile phones away in order to focus on the task in hand. Many people are tied to their phones, looking for messages, looking at their Twitter feeds, or checking their emails can become habitual. We are quick to jump when an alert goes off, shattering our concentration. Instead, Zack says, we should try to put the constant distraction of our phones to one side to allow us to focus on our single task.
There is even evidence to suggest single-tasking can help you to live a more peaceful life, as the process of focusing on one thing without distraction has an effect akin to mediation. Reducing stress, increasing your productivity, and helping your health all at the same time? Perhaps it is time to forget the myth of multi-tasking for good?
Why get stressed and do two or more things at the same time badly when you can do single-task, and get them done properly?
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