Today's modern world has made multi-tasking almost inescapable. Technology has provided us with the privilege to achieve a multitude of tasks at once. Many of us have become part of a 21st century mania that tries to cram as much as we can into every single moment of our time, whether it's talking business whilst we eat lunch, catching up on emails whilst standing in a queue, listening to podcasts whilst commuting to work or updating our social media status when out for drinks with friends. Many of us now have the ability to complete the job of 5 people whilst also trying to keep up with our lives, partners, family, friends and favourite TV shows.
Being able to multi-task has morphed from a superhuman power to a fundamental skill for those born into the golden era of short attention spans, if we aren't doing two things at once, we may feel like we're wasting our time and with the increasing trend of crossing multiple 'to do's' off our list, are we really fuelling our efficiency or simply frying our brain cells?
Scientific evidence now shows that having the freedom to feel like we're living 3 lives in the space of 1 can actually lead to negative long term effects such as:
- Lack of focus
- Memory Impairment
- Increased stress levels
With an unlimited buffet of distractions and responsibilities, multi-tasking may make us feel like we're being more productive but scientific research suggests that excessive multi-tasking, over extended periods of time can make us less happy, less able to connect with people and slow down our thinking and productivity.
Although our technological devices may act as Swiss army knives that have the functionality to do a variety of things at once, our brains aren't wired to handle more than one higher cognitive function at a time. The more frequently we switch between tasks, the more energy it requires for our brains to rev up and re-boot our neurons. Computers may be able to rapidly switch between tasks but unlike humans they don't usually take a further 10-20 minutes to get back on track after an interruption.
So how can we go about multi-tasking more efficiently?
1. Divide and conquer
Learning to multi-task when it's necessary and focus when you need to is a skill which can be acquired by making two lists. Dividing activities into two groups which consist of 'best done with an internet connection' and 'best done when offline' can help you to maintain the connectivity when it's essential and the focus when it's required.
2. Write a list
Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik, a psychologist and member of Berlin school of experimental psychology conducted a study which showed that people seem to have a better recollection of uncompleted tasks; she termed this the 'Zeigarnik effect'. Her experiment proved that when we leave tasks incomplete we can't seem to mentally let go of them, causing our subconscious mind to keep reminding us that they need our attention. Writing a list of our tasks and our action steps can help us to outsource our concerns to a piece of paper instead. When we write down our actions and regularly review them we naturally start to feel more relaxed about what we're doing right now rather than worrying about what we think could fall through the cracks if not immediately dealt with.
3. Tame your smartphone
Many of us can rely on our smartphones like they are an extended body part, resulting in a constant pinging that can rule our time. This can be avoided by disabling unnecessary notifications which could hound you with every new tweet or email that comes your way. Setting regular intervals of time each day to check these platforms and respond to messages can maximize the use of your time helping you to increase your level of focus and slow down your 'task switching' tendency.
4. Try Mindfulness
Mindfulness techniques have been said to increase focus, creativity and reduction of stress levels all of which can be caused from the extreme multi-tasking of today's modern world. Breathing exercises and meditation techniques have been designed to bring ourselves back into the present moment with scientific benefits proving a regular practice can boost our productivity levels. As a result i am currently taking part in a 30 day mindfulness challenge to test the benefits first-hand. If you'd like to join me for my 30 day mindfulness challenge click here.
Multi-tasking is a skill which is increasingly becoming ingrained as a part of today's culture and whilst science may prove that our brains aren't wired to be overstimulated there are ways to use our time in more neuron friendly ways, stopping us from burning out and soldiering on.