People fond of multitasking need to read this post, as it is believed largely that multitasking improves productivity and brain power the recent studies say its not true. In an study conducted by neuroscientist Professor Earl Miller, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, head scans were performed on a group of volunteers to monitor their brain activity while multitasking. The findings showed that when the volunteers were presented with a group of visual stimulants, the brain was only activated by one or two things at a time.
Therefore, if the brain is overloaded with competing tasks, it has to alternate between them, causing its capacity to process information to be diminished. This has been found to especially be the case when we try to perform tasks that are similar at the same time, such as answering
a text while writing an email or talking on the phone, because similar tasks require us to use the same part of the brain. The result is that the brain becomes less able to function and consequently starts to function more slowly.
Even more surprising are the findings of Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at the University of London, that show that even just the thought of multitasking can cause the brain to slow down. He found that just by undertaking two simple actions at the same time, such as texting and emailing, your IQ can be reduced by 10 points! The knock-on effects of this can result in the type of mental fogginess usually caused by missing a whole night’s sleep.
One signature trait of our digital world is that it fragments our attention. Our attachment to our computers and hand-held digital devices has led us to view multitasking as our default setting, very often across several digital devices at once. Rather than view this as a negative, it makes us feel productive and efficient. In reality, though, multitasking actually makes us less productive and has been shown to diminish our ability to concentrate on one thing at a time.
6 Steps to Unitasking at Work
1. Allocate a time every day in your schedule to unitask
In the same way that you schedule a meeting or conference call, block out a period of time for unitasking. Use this time to focus on special tasks that require your full attention. Select a specific period during the day when perhaps the workload is lighter or when there are likely to be fewer distractions.
2. De-clutter your desktop
While you are working, close all the screens that don’t relate to the work that you are planning to undertake and open up one screen only so you can focus fully on the task in front of you. That will minimize the digital distractions competing for your time and allow you to work in a focused and methodical way.
3. Turn off all digital alerts
Disabling all digital notifications and alerts for specific periods of time substantially reduces the level of distraction experienced when working online and helps to facilitate your ability to focus on one task at a time.
4. Schedule a time to check your messages
Rather than checking your emails, voicemails and texts continuously as they appear, allocate yourself specific times during each day to deal with your messages. This reduces the number of interruptions to the other tasks that you are working on. Another effective technique for managing your email response rate is to add a note to your email signature indicating that email messages will only be checked periodically throughout the day, pre-empting the need for you to make an immediate response. Alternatively the same message can be sent via an auto-responder.
5. Tell your colleagues you are taking time to unitask
If you are in an open-plan space, a shared workplace environment or you operate an ‘open door’ policy in your own office, let your work colleagues know in advance that you need to work on an important task and require some uninterrupted time to complete the task at hand. They can be notified when you have completed the task and are available again.
6. Take an “unplugged” break
For those of us who are permanently distracted by the online activity of our desktops, laptops and smartphones, but who find the idea of disconnecting from our online world too challenging, there are apps that will do it for us. They can be set to turn everything off for a period of time which can be specified according to personal work schedules. Your digital down time can literally be used as a “breathing space” to take some deep breaths and reconnect with yourself.
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