People with all different attention-spans know how easy it is to get distracted from an important task: a simple incoming text message, phone call or email can throw even the most disciplined worker completely off track. In fact, none of us is 100% capable of juggling all those outside signals while keeping our focus on a current project — at least not very successfully. And yet we all insist on surrounding ourselves at work with a multitude of competing devices, signals, projects and priorities.
Janice Marturano from the Institute for Mindful Leadership has researched how the human brain is physically and structurally incapable of multitasking. She argues that it’s simply not worth trying to juggle several tasks at the same time.
“What we understand from our study of the brain at this point is that we cannot multitask — we’re simply not capable of doing it,” said Marturano. “What we do is we flip back and forth very quickly… There’s a huge productivity loss, because when I move from this iPad to this tweet to this email to this project I’m studying, I can’t pick it up where I left it off. I have to take a few steps back and ramp back into it, and that’s a huge productivity loss.”
The takeaway? Limit yourself to one project and a single medium at a time. Put your phone away while you are trying to work through your email inbox. If you are working on a project offline, turn off your email alerts, or disable the internet connection altogether to remove the temptation. If you are reading something in print, consider walking away from the desk (and electronic devices) entirely, and take notes the old fashioned way with pen and paper. When you complete the day with significantly more tasks crossed off your list, you’ll now have plenty of extra time to browse the internet, social media, or simply (gasp!) unplug.