I am VERY pleased to report that the New York Times has confirmed what I have long suspected: that multi-tasking is not humanly possible. Not. Humanly. Possible.
To quote: “Think you can get more done by juggling multiple tasks? Think again.”
Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that when you shuttle back and forth between tasks, the neural networks of your brain have to backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure to go forward again on that particular subject. This extra brain activity causes you to slow down, not speed up, with the stuff you’re doing.
But here’s the paragraph that justified my one-thing-at-a-time mindset:
“Trying to multitask impedes creativity. Truly innovative thinking arises when we allow our brains to follow a logical path of associated thoughts and ideas, and this is more likely when we can focus on a single mental pathway for an extended period.”
The article acknowledges it’s not always realistic to block off hours for a single task, but even committing to mono-tasking for five minutes at a time can yield productivity benefits.
And there were a few suggestions that can help:
Remove temptation. Actively resist the urge to check social media. You can even install an anti-distraction program if your self-control is nonexistent.
Work on just one screen. Put away your cell phone and turn off the TV or any second monitor.
Move. If you find yourself losing focus, get up and briefly walk around. When you’re done, it’s easier to refocus on the task at hand.
Work in intervals. Set a timer for five or 10 minutes and focus on your assignment (whatever it is) for that amount of time. Then allow yourself a minute of distraction, as long as you get back to your task for another five or 10 minute interval.
Hey! It works! I just wrote this blog post in five minutes by sitting my butt in the computer chair and concentrating on finishing it. Now, about that distraction/reward suggestion above? I’m off to watch one (only one!) episode of House Hunters International.
Then I’ll get back to my WIP. Promise.