Multitasking is not conducive to clear, innovative thinking.
The head brain wants us to focus on one task at a time. Every time we switch to a minor task, like checking email or responding to a text, the head brain releases dopamine, a small reward for accomplishing an insignificant task.
This is the equivalent of swallowing a teaspoon of sugar. Our brains like the dopamine and they want more, so the moment we return to our important work, the head brain looks for another hit and encourages us to take on an additional minor task, like checking the basketball score or scrolling to the weather app.
All this moving from one task to the other increases the stress hormone cortisol. That's because the brain finds the constant starting and stopping exhausting. Studies show that multitaskers lose IQ points and do less thorough work than people who concentrate on the task at hand. At the same time, the more distracted we are, the less we are engaged at work and in life.
We can all agree that the smartphone era has made this phenomenon much worse. Getting over the addiction of multitasking—yes, it’s an addiction—requires a change in behavior and routines. Fortunately, there are many tools available to help us maintain our focus.
For example, one daily activity app is called The Productivity Planner. At the beginning of each day you write down your most important task for the coming day. Then, you list tasks of secondary importance. Finally, you note a third tier of tasks to be completed if you accomplish your first and second priorities. This app also has a tool to track time so you can learn to work in shorter, more productive bursts. This tool is all about matching words with actions, so you spend time on activities that matter most, that engage you in the most productive way.
Another app, Calendly, helps you schedule so you spend less time on things that don’t matter. Instead of emails going up and back between two people as they try to schedule a meeting, one participant visits the Calendly page of the second participant and clicks on an available time. In under 30 seconds, a meeting has been scheduled.
There are tools that help us more from an overscheduled life to one that provides for reflection – and engagement. I urge you to use them.
Ready to Shift?