Single Tasking - Lose The Multitasking Mentality To Gain Better Mental Health
Do you find it easy to focus your attention 100% of the time? How often do you focus easily in a normal day?
As I’m writing this I’m aware of many tabs open on my laptop, already thinking about other pieces of work to be done, as well as all my usual household demands and family commitments swirling around in my head, and that despite focusing on writing, I’m partially focussed on other things.
Multitasking is human nature, we are always “spinning the plates” and have multiple things to do, because that’s life. Some of us even thrive on a bit of a challenge and busy periods because it helps us feel productive and capable (see thriving on stress for more insight on that), but the truth is none of us really multitask.
Multi tasking is actually the brain switching frantically between different topics, and focusing rapidly between objects or tasks, and research suggests we actually lose up to 20% of productivity for every task we continue to add on.
A 2010 study by Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re currently doing. So whether it’s physically multitasking or mentally multitasking, your switching focus is holding you back.
3 of the biggest reasons people multitask but still can’t get things done are:
1. Having too much work/ tasks to do
2. Not having clear priorities
3. Distractions with non important activities (emails, social media, tv)
Another factor to consider against multitasking, is that multitasks create the snowball effect.
The more tasks you roll into multitasking, the more are further created by not getting things completed, and you it’s likely if your someone constantly juggling life, the more you do of the “extra” demands and pressures, the more continue to appear.
However, single tasking has been found to increase your productivity, by helping you get things done quicker and at a higher level of quality. And the first step to breaking the cycle of multitasking is changing your mindset around your priorities and mental focus. Your choice and ability to focus really is an incredible strength!
Our brain likes to switch things up when multitasking, because it actually increases dopamine levels, because one task for a long time is challenging it sees any change or break as a reward. But consider the facts that:
★ Single tasking builds better focus – because we are in habits of switching very quickly between tasks, by focusing on thing until it’s completed we are teaching ourselves the practice of a focussed mind.
★ Single tasking lower stress levels – multitasking requires energy consumption and when your tired it becomes tough to make it through the day and have the energy to enjoy yourself, coupled with falling behind because of tiredness we can see how draining and stressful the effects of multitasking become. By focusing more we can therefor reduce some of our stress from day to day life.
★ Focusing on one, means more gets done – productivity in the most basic sense means more getting done! We have all had the great sense of achievement when we follow through something it’s finally completed, and also the feeling of flow when we are fully absorbed in something. Both of these are reasons to feel good about focusing on task!
★ Single tasking builds creativity – and remember creative does not have to mean artsy, creative can mean thinking outside the box, looking for solutions instead of problems and doing things your own way.
〈 It’s often wrongly believed that creativity is something your born with, but actually it’s a skill that we practice and develop. And often creativity comes from those periods of boredom, or when our mind is focused for a length of time. Consider the author who takes time away to write the novel free from outside distractions, or a painters retreat, or the computer programmer making time to focus at length.
Creativity can help your mind look and find answers to problems, and builds when your mind is truly focussed instead of darting about so much.〉
Whilst it becomes easy therefor to find the merits of single tasking, the truth is everyone at some point needs to multi task. Whether it’s through work pressures, family needs, or general demands on your time from life itself, it’s true that to some extent, multitasking will always be present.
However, there are easy steps that can help you learn to focus your mind and single task more often listed below.
Free yourself from distractions – put your phone away if you need to, or find out how to pop up the do not disturb message for the times you are ready to be free from distractions. It’s important to note, that this includes work time, as well as family/free time. It’s challenging to get away from the “what if I’m needed” mindset, but part of self care is also valuing your wellbeing and learning to recognise when to say no to somethings and yes to others. Closing off email notifications, messages or anything else that takes you away from what your doing or enjoying, needs to have some sort of limitations, which is of course completely under your own control.
Start small – set a timer if you need to! By also breaking down big tasks to smaller bitesize ones you will find it easier to focus on what to do instead of becoming overwhelmed and trying to juggle it all.
Take a break between tasks – whilst it’s tempting to plow on, taking a meaningful break between tasks helps your mind settle and refocus so you can do more when you need to. Your brain will also gain the dopamine hit that it craves as a “brain reward” in the same way it used to when attempting to multitask. It’s also important to get that break away from indoor lighting or screens, because nature if one of the best healers for our mind and body (see our blog for more).
Learn to enjoy focus – if you find it challenging to focus when working or managing the must do things of life, find more enjoyable ways to practice the skill. Practicing and learning meditation, mindfulness, yoga or any practice requiring your breath, your focus and your whole body is going to help you relax, refocus and train your mind to behave the way you want it to.
And if your still wondering if single tasking can help you consider asking yourself these coaching questions:
➳ What do I gain from multitasking?
➳ What do I lose from multitasking?
➳ What do I fear will happen if I single task more?
➳ What will I gain by focusing and prioritising myself more?
Own your truth, your actions and your outcomes.
Love & Light Jennifer xx
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