how to stop multitasking

Why you should stop multi-tasking and what you can do instead

The more you multitask, the lesser you accomplish because you slowly lose your ability to focus enough to learn.
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Talking on the phone while cooking, sending e-mails during meetings, texting while walking—multitasking has become an inseparable part of our life. While multitasking may seem like a good strategy to stay productive, nothing could be farther from the truth. When you juggle between two activities, it makes you less efficient, a Stanford study suggests. So in reality, you should avoid multitasking.

Researchers have discovered that “people who are bombarded with electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one task to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.” Hence, avoid multitasking as much as you can because trying to concentrate on two things at once can impact your focus negatively and increase stress in life.

For instance, using a mobile phone, whether hand-held or hands-free, while driving is distracting and dangerous. It reduces your level of concentration and impairs your ability to make decisions. In most countries, it is illegal to text while driving as you switch back and forth from one thing to another, distracting you with each switch. In a workplace, this could negatively impact the way you perform and hamper the quality of work.

“Inevitably we find ourselves tackling too many things at the same time, spreading our focus so thin that nothing gets the attention it deserves. This is commonly referred to as ‘being busy.’ Being busy, however, is not the same thing as being productive,” says Ryder Carroll, author of the book, The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future.

This inability to concentrate on one thing can impact your life, both personally and professionally. So, instead of depending on multitasking, here are a few things you can do to stay productive.

Plan ahead and prioritise

If you want to avoid multitasking, learn to manage your tasks efficiently in a timely manner. One of the best ways to do it is to plan your day in advance. Prioritise the list of things that need to be done but before you start jotting them down, think of the demands of the various tasks by taking all the relevant details into account. This way, you will be able to give appropriate time to each task. Even if you can’t finish everything due to unexpected meetings or other emergencies, you’ll know what is left and what isn’t. You can take that up the very next day.

Free yourself from distractions

Whether you are working from home or office, you probably have to complete a lot of tasks on any given day. To work effectively, you need to create an environment that is free from as many distractions as possible—these include cell phones, television, e-mails, social media and face-to-face conversations. But the problem is that it is not always easy to recognise a distraction when you see one.

While scrolling through your social media feed certainly falls in the category of distraction, discussing projects with your colleagues and dealing with messages coming in your inbox are counted as part of any job today. And yet they steal your time and focus.

How to stay productive then? A simple solution would be to assign time slots to these unavoidable tasks. Doing so will help you complete your assignments on time and you won’t have to resort to multitasking. A simple trick to stay on track is this—after you are done discussing work, simply mention to your colleague that you are going back to your assignment so you will chat with them later. They will follow your cue.

Take regular breaks

If you feel the urge to switch tasks, it could be because you are tired or need a break from your current work. In such a scenario, instead of surrendering to the urge of making a call or running a quick errand, take a real mental break. Sit quietly at your workstation, do some stretching or just look out of the window and relax.

Research suggests that ’brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.’ Taking a break helps you recharge and leaves you with a productive mindset when you are ready to get back to the task at hand.

Focus on one thing at a time

When it comes to improving your productivity, the best success mantra is to avoid multitasking. Switching back and forth between tasks takes away your focus and in truth slows you down. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that students took longer to complete a math problem when they had to do other tasks simultaneously. In fact, they were 40 percent slower than those who didn’t have to switch.

Therefore it’s highly beneficial to focus on just one thing at a time. You will get things quickly and the quality of your work will also improve.

Divide your work into smaller tasks

You need to be realistic about how much work you can get done. If you take on more than you can do, you will resort to multitasking and that will affect the quality of work. So stay productive by doing small bursts of single-tasking and slowly increase it as your focus improves.

You can try the ‘Pomodoro Technique’, where 25 minutes of work is followed by a five-minute break for mental recovery. The key is to find a schedule that works for you—one that provides the time to focus on the task at hand and the flexibility to deal with the distractions around you.

Say no

A common reason why people resort to multitasking is that they want to please others and hence end up accepting their requests thus biting more than they can chew. It not only affects the quality of work but also their reputation in the long run.

If you are offered a project when your schedule is swamped, learn to politely turn it down. Saying ‘no’ will give you the time and energy to focus on the work that you already have and its quality won’t suffer.

How to stay productive and avoid multitasking is a process that is simple when implemented regularly. Imbibing these steps in daily life will ensure you are on top of your game with peak focus sans any distractions. Most importantly, it will leave you with crucial time to unwind and do things you love!

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