I’ve noticed something scary about myself over the past few years: I have a really difficult time paying attention.
I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I can’t make it through the day without juggling multiple things at once. If I’m writing an article I’m also listening to music, half-way watching the news, checking Twitter and Facebook, sending emails, and reading other articles or blogs.
AT. THE. SAME. TIME.
It’s a mess. And while I used to boast that I was a master multitasker, what I realize now is that what’s been rapidly happening to me (and probably you, too) is that my attention span, my ability to sit still and concentrate my whole self on just one thing, has vanished into thin air.
Somewhere between the 24-hour news cycle and smart phones and demanding bosses and kids and apps that keep us forever plugged in, we forget how to cut the cord and just focus.
We can’t seem to concentrate on our friends and families when we’re together, we can’t focus when we have to knock out a project for work, and we especially can’t focus when we’re alone, trying to finish that book everybody’s been raving about.
Even now, as I’m writing this post about my inability to focus, I’ve stopped multiple times to check my phone, switch Pandora stations, glace at Facebook, scan a few blogs, and fold laundry.
It’s a sickness, I tell you.
Now, I know someone is reading this thinking they are a master juggler and that I’m just talking crazy, but I’m sorry, you’re not.
While you may get everything done, the cost of doing business and knocking everything off of your packed to-do list is extremely high.
Not only does multitasking mean we actually take longer to complete our tasks, but I’d wager a good amount of those things we check off the to-list were done in fairly mediocre fashion.
Basically, had you focused on just one thing at a time, you would have not only gotten done faster, but you would have performed better as well.
Don’t believe me? A study published in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology a few years ago found that multitasking can make our brains work 40% slower. On top of that, a London psychiatrist found that juggling tasks can make us lose 10 IQ points, sort of equivalent to missing a night of sleep.
And if that wasn’t enough, multitasking even affects our bodies by releasing stress hormones, making us feel agitated and disgruntled.
According to Dr. Alan Keen, a behavioral scientist in Australia, multitasking is partly to blame for why so many of us are angry.
“Why are people in large cities more angry?” he told the Daily Mail. “If I’m living in a big city with a busy job and I’m multitasking and I’m a busy parent, all that translates into chemical changes in the brain.”
Over the years, our jobs and our lives have cranked up the demands so we try to multitask to get everything done, which makes us feel stressed and prone to trying to multitask some more just to keep up. It’s a vicious cycle.
But are we doomed? Is that it for us? Will we continue to live angry, harried, stressed-out lives?
Well, not quite.
Luckily, the cure for multitasking is simple: Stop.
While we can’t always sidestep distractions (sometimes things really DO need us to switch focus), more often than not our world will not collapse if we ignore our ringing cell phone or avoid engaging in a Facebook discussion while we’re trying to finish an assignment (peep this talk from tech expert/really cool guy Scott Hanselman).
Instead of wasting time trying to be very productive and finish five projects at once, or firing off emails to potential clients when we should be spending time with our families, consider separating the tasks.
An easy way to break your multitasking addiction is to use the Pomodoro Technique and give yourself a set amount of time, say, 25 minutes, to focus on one task before taking a short break to do other things.
While focusing may be difficult at first, by the end of the set time you’ll probably notice that you were more productive than usual and with a whole lot less stress.
Will breaking your addiction to multitasking be easy? Nope. And you may never completely rid yourself from your need to do two things at once. But by decreasing the time you spend attempting to do the impossible will help you get more done and be happier in the process.
And that sounds like a win-win to me.
Do you multitask? Please leave a comment and let me know how multitasking works for you.
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