Isn’t it great that someone can talk on the phone, read email, and make notes for a speech at the same time? One imagines brain cells dancing with glee at all they’re expected to do.
Here’s a dramatic indication that multitasking may be less beneficial than we’re led to believe. Though people keep on doing it, the evidence is clear that driving while talking on the phone or, even worse, texting, leads to increased chances of car accidents.
Another example is that of young mothers who have no choice about multitasking. Often they have to try to cook a meal, clean the house, and keep track of rambunctious children. When asked, they say they’d give anything to able to do one thing at a time and actually get it done.
What’s true for drivers and mothers is true for all of us. Our brains aren’t designed to do many things at once. When the brain has to try to do more than thing at once, one of those things is going to suffer. In the case of driving and talking on the phone, the visual ability decreases—sometimes with tragic results.
The young mother ends up feeling stressed and anxious. This increased and constant stress increases cortisol levels in the brain. Cortisol overloads can cause damage to many parts of the body, including the brain. Anyone who multitasks can suffer the same consequences.
Imagine yourself talking to an attorney on the phone, trying to check your email, and sending nonverbal signals to an assistant. Your attention is pulled in too many directions.
Change Your Behavior Patterns so That You Monotask
1. Chart Your Time. You may be saying, “I don’t need more to do,” but keeping a record of how you spend your time daily will give you invaluable information about how you can save time.
Be honest about this. If you realize that you waste time surfing the internet, for example, note that. An honest approach to time charting will end up showing you how you can use your time well.
Be fully present, especially when you speak to a client. Turn away from your email screen. Close your door.
2. Write Down What You Want to Accomplish for Each Day. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. If you have a big task, ask yourself if it’s urgent or if you can break it down into smaller units and spread these out over several days. This ability to monotask enables you to avoid the frustrations of unfinished business.
When you are reviewing medical records, it often helps to break down a large case into several sessions in which you can specifically focus on the case.
When you’ve finished something, be sure to check it off your list and congratulate yourself.
3. Schedule Down Time. Walk around for a few minutes. Respect the buzzes of your Fitbit when it tells you it is time to get up and move.
When you take your lunch break, if the weather’s nice, eat in a park. Don’t bring a book. Sit and people-watch. If you’re in the middle of something challenging, close your eyes for a few minutes and let your mind go blank. You will likely find that turning your thoughts away from a problem allow you to return to it, feeling refreshed and invigorated.
You can benefit even more if you have an exercise practice that you can use for the purpose of taking a break. A few yoga stretches can make a big difference. So can some deep knee bends.
A monotask mindset lets you relax. Even spending a few minutes breathing deeply can make a difference. You can practice this not only as part of taking a break but when you’re feeling stressed.
Focus on your solar plexus. Relax those muscles as you inhale and exhale. If you do this, you’ll feel a lot better.
Your brain serves you well. If you treat it kindly, you’ll find that you can live a longer, healthier, and more productive life.