Lots of people juggle two or three different things simultaneously. I am absolutely guilty of this. If they're at work, they might be toggling between an email window and an excel sheet. If they're at home, they might be multi-tasking a conversation and playing a game on their phones. Multi-tasking has become such second nature to people in today's world that they've accepted it as the optimal way to approach their day.
There's a small catch here – multitasking doesn't work. The fact is, it's impossible for your brain to multitask. Is that true? Don't believe me? Check out this NPR article by Jon Hamilton from nearly ten years ago. That's right, all of that productive work you think you were doing when you were juggling three projects at a time was actually not productive at all. Single-tasking is the reliable way to go if you want to be more productive. Here's how you can go about it.
1. When you're on the Internet, try to have a maximum of one or two tabs open simultaneously.
Try to concentrate on one email, one article or one conversation at a time. It's certainly tempting to click link after link and switch back and forth between several engaging things, but it'll just reduce your comprehension of all of them. If you find an interesting link that isn't related to what you're reading now, use Evernote or Pocket to clip it so that you can read it in your free time.
2. Remind yourself why you're performing this activity.
Whether you're reading an article on the Internet or writing an email to your co-workers, it is helpful to pause occasionally and think to yourself why you are doing what you're doing. This way, your attention won't waver, and you will be able to complete each task mindfully.
3. Finish what you've started.
Unless you absolutely have to pay attention to something else, try to finish the task you've started. Whether you're reading an article or writing an email, try to finish it before you move on to the next thing.
4. Try to minimize the number of concurrent apps open on your phone.
It's hard to keep track of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit if you have all of them open at the same time. Instead, try to simplify your app usage. Check your Twitter, close the app and then fire up Reddit.
5. Become aware of the things in your environment that steal your attention.
Smartphone notifications, pop-up ads, email clients and other stimuli are continually vying for your attention. The second you stop writing an article to respond to an instant messenger pop-up, you lose a little bit of your flow. Identify these attention-stealers in your environment and get rid of them.
6. Disconnect yourself from technology for a little while.
Emails, notifications and Instagram posts are always going to be around. You don't need to be vigilant round-the-clock for emails or missed messages. For a little while each day, switch your phone and computer off and go out into the real world. Head to the gym. Take a walk. Play with your dog. Have an uninterrupted conversation with a friend or family member.
Use these tips as a framework for understanding the ideology behind single-tasking. Stop dividing your attention between several different things. Reduce the distractions in your life so you can start being more productive.
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