• Camila Santiago

Multitasking is Ruining Your Brain Health and Productivity. Here’s How To Handle It

I honestly don’t know who came up with the idea that multitasking is the ultimate solution and the most efficient way to tackle as many tasks as we want, all the same time.

It sounds like a great idea, right? It saves you time, it’s practical, like why not? What if I told you that’s the worst thing to do and that you’re draining the energy reserves of your brain faster than you think?

The perils of multitasking

If you don’t think multitasking is a bad idea, let me ask you this – are you able to drive, text someone, drink a cup of coffee and still check if you’re under the speed limit of the road you’re driving? If you can, maybe you’re part of the strict 2,5% of humans who are able to multitask effectively. And according to Harvard Business Review, focusing on more than one thing decreases your productivity by 40% and lowers your IQ by 10 points.

However, even if you think you're part of this small group, your chances are still low. That’s because multitasking gives a false sense of productivity. Also, because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t seem to be that bad, does it?

It actually is.

The science behind multitasking

The human brain can only operate at its finest when it’s focusing on one task at a time. For instance, when we get interrupted, it takes us around 24 minutes to get our attention back to work. Switching back and forth between tasks taxes the brain and on top of that, it can increase stress levels.

Unfortunately – and I can’t stress this enough – we are conditioned not only to believe that multitasking is productive but we’re encouraged to do so. The notification in our smartphones is a great example.

The tendency to divide our attention between different things is harmful even for the completion of simple tasks such as driving. "According to scientists, dual tasking is associated with reduced activity in regions of the brain important for attention, as well as poorer driving performance," says Time magazine.

How to handle it

It’s actually pretty simple. Instead of dividing your attention among tasks, set aside specific chunks of time for each task you wish to perform. For example, if you’re used to checking your email or social media several times a day, make the commitment to check your email once in the morning and once in the afternoon and maybe Instagram only after finishing work.

You might have to resist the temptation to do a myriad of things at the same time because your brain is used to it and impulses are unconscious. That said, to make it easier for your brain, you can schedule each task at your calendar and while doing a given task, leave your smartphone in another room, if it’s possible. If not, deactivate all notifications.

Where mindfulness comes in

Mindfulness may sound like a new-age, woo woo kind of thing to you…

So, is it actually a fad? No, it isn’t. And neuroscientists have already proven that.

Practising mindfulness regularly helps us to focus our attention and increase productivity. We also become more resilient, less reactive and more focused, just to name a few. Mindfulness has a myriad of benefits such as to improve our sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, improve physical and mental health and the list goes on.

How to practice mindfulness

“The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes.” says the website on mindfulness Mindful.org.

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present moment and to become aware of your thoughts, emotions and feelings. In other words, it can be defined as a non-reactive state. It breaks the vicious cycle (and temptation) of immediate response to someone or something.

So how can I do it?

  1. Take some time off. It really doesn’t matter how much time you have. It can be 2 minutes, 5 minutes or even 30 minutes. You just need some time to be alone and in peace.

  2. Find a quiet space. Leave your phone in the other room and find a quiet space and sit down in a chair or a cushion.

  3. Bring your attention to the present moment. You can focus on whatever you want to like your inhale and exhale, external noises, your heartbeat. Choose one thing and just observe it with no judgment. Eyes can be opened or closed.

  4. Let thoughts pass by. Just like clouds in the sky. Resist the temptation to judge whatever you’re thinking – an email you need to send, a deadline, your to-do list. If thoughts arrive and you feel that you’re being carried away by them, simply return to the thing you chose to focus on.

  5. Rinse and repeat. During your practice, there might be lots of thoughts popping up. Mindfulness is about coming back to the present moment, over and over again.

Like the name says, mindfulness is a practice. It takes time, patience and resilience. Be kind to yourself as it might not be an easy thing to do – especially in the beginning. But I guarantee you, that your effort will be worth it.

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