The Case Against Multitasking, or How I Learned To Stop Being Distracted and Love Concentration
Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear: I love technology.
No, really. I do. You will never hear me complaining about how Facebook makes us all less connected. I am that person that uses my smartphone for my entire life. I read technology articles often because I am so enthralled by the idea of what we will think of next. I judge people for using YouTube instead of Spotify, for preferring Internet Explorer to Google Chrome because, TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT HELLO OH MY GOD WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE LAST THREE SECONDS WHEN ALL OF THIS CHANGED. So really. Love technology.
But good gravy, I am distracted.
Apparently, I’m not alone. According to the New York Times, “computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour [...]” Folks using the internet on their phones will spend less than 8 seconds on a website that has not been optimized for mobile devices. I have been trying to write this article for the last hour–in that time, I have checked Facebook at least 20 times, read through 3 completely irrelevant articles, added music to my Spotify playlist, sent 2 text messages, checked my personal email 4 times and my work email once, checked in to this coffee shop on Foursquare, stretched, danced a little, and looked up at each person that’s walked in to the room. (Are you as tired after reading that as I was after writing it?) Our attention spans are getting shorter, our distractions greater in number, and things are falling through the cracks.
“Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.
These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.”
Our inability to concentrate is affecting us in really negative ways:
“While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.
And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.”
I’m a self-described multitasker. At work, I typically have 9 browser windows open, with 10 tabs open in each one, 4 MS Word documents up, 3 chat windows I’m active in, and 4 MS Outlook screens going. In other words, Alt+Tab is my best friend.
The problem with all of this is that even I’ve begun to notice that I have a difficult time actually completing tasks in a reasonable amount of time. I create my to-do list, start working on one thing, and then get distracted by one of a thousand things: an email, an instant message, a phone call, a coworker, a comment on my Facebook status, an interesting LinkedIn article, something I forgot to write down, etc. There are days where that initial task might not ever get completed…which does not bode well for success.
So how do we stop it all? A few tips I’ve found have helped me:
- Awareness. When you catch yourself “multitasking” a bit too much (ie: getting distracted), just stop. Take a deep breath and really be intentional about focusing. What was the task you started? Tell yourself that all of the other things can wait, and that you need to focus on this task until completion. Find yourself doing it again? Start the process over. Cognizance can be your best friend in life and is critical to training yourself out of certain behaviors.
- Reward yourself. If you’ve finished that task from start to finish, give yourself a minute to check Facebook or send your instant message. Decide that you’ll take 5 minutes to look at your Twitter feed. After that 5 minutes, start your next task and go from start to finish–when you treat it like a game, it can be more fun to accomplish these things!
- Do something completely different. Sometimes, I need to physically remove myself from the distracting environment just to center myself again. Go to the bathroom. Talk to a co-worker. Take a walk. Get something to drink. Whatever you prefer, give yourself a short break and then come back to it. Clearing your mind of the distractions aids in re-focusing and sometimes you have to get out of the space of distractions in order to do that.
The process is difficult, and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not good at it right away (I checked Facebook another three times and answered a phone call while writing the last few paragraphs.) As our technology advances and our world speeds up, this will become more and more necessary to maintaining real focus and being accomplished. But we’re done here. You are now allowed to Facebook your thoughts on this article.