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Stop Multitasking Today

There is one lesson which I regard as by far the most important thing when it comes to managing your time and getting things done: DO NOT MULTITASK

Do your emails come in when you are doing other work?  Is your phone by your side when you do other work receiving texts or other notifications? Then you multitask - just check in your phone’s settings for how many times you pick up your phone per day if you don't believe me!

Each time you get a notification it triggers a strong dopamine response in your brain. Dopamine is a chemical which makes us feel good as it's usually connected to someone talking to us. From an evolutionary perspective, social interaction is linked to survival (people who were good social animals were more likely to survive if a sabre tooth tiger came along) hence the chemical motivator. Most of us don't have that sort of danger in our lives but interface designers have hacked this ancient signal and use it to get us addicted. If you allow these devices and applications to control your time then you are allowing other people to reduce your productivity and profit from it. YOU MUST RESIST THIS!

Why is multitasking so bad?

Research has highlighted two stages to multi-tasking which create inefficiency:

  1. The first stage is known as "goal shifting" (deciding to do one thing instead of another).
  2. The second is known as "role activation" (changing from the rules for the previous task to rules for the new task).

When you multitask you flit between the two stages.  Each change may take a fraction of a second but if you are doing that all the time it adds up.  That time loss becomes greater if the tasks are complex.

Multitasking makes you stupider

It is not just the time loss though as multitasking has been shown to affect our ability to do focused, high quality work.  Stanford University researcher Clifford Nass said, after doing some research on multitasking, that: "We studied people who were chronic multitaskers, and even when we did not ask them to do anything close to the level of multitasking they were doing [normally], their cognitive processes were impaired. So basically, they are worse at most kinds of thinking not only that required for multitasking but also for what we generally think of as involving deep thought"

How can you single task?

There are some simple tactics to avoid multitasking. They are not easy to stick to but I have found them very helpful for me:

  1. Batch your work. For example, email:
  1. Block time for quality/deep work:  
  1. Train your brain to a single task. It’s hard to get your mind to single-task when you have been muti-tasking for your whole working life! One way to train yourself on this is to go for a walk for 15 minutes and think about 1 thing or problem. Each time you drift off and start thinking about something other than that problem, note that you have drifted off and go back to thinking about the one thing. This trains your brain to stay on track with single tasking and over time like any skill you get better at it.
  2. Switch off phone notifications: Create dedicated phone time and switch phone off / leave it somewhere at other times. If you really can’t do this for some reason you could at least turn off all notifications - as these are distracting and drive you to multi-task. Remember, your phone is the enemy of productivity and focus.
  3. Delete personal social media - Remove yourself from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and remove them from your phone. This may sound harsh and isolating but I just don't think the level of addiction they create as well as the well proven unhappiness is worth it. You may not be able to do this if you are reliant on these channels to market your business (they are powerful marketing channels precisely because they have addicted the world!) but from a pure productivity point of view I would delete them.  

Bottom line:  Do 1 thing at a time. Notifications, social media and your phone in general is the enemy of productivity so remove them as much as possible.

For those of you as passionate about this topic as I am I recommend these two books for further reading!