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Harnessing the Distractions: Multitasking and More

Here is my daily problem….I can be working away on something, like a blog post, then an email notification pops up and I think I have to reply. Then my phone beeps at me and it’s a colleague who wants me to look something up for her on the web cause she”s heading to a training session and needs the link for the session opener and can I please send her the link. When I finally put the phone down I get distracted by the website she wanted me to visit. Ten minutes later find myself lost on YouTube not knowing how I got there and completely forgetting my original task at hand so I do a quick check of my Gmail and maybe Facebook. By the time I remember, the blog post is supposed to be done, and then I have to rush to get something, anything written so I can post it on time. AHHHHHH, what a downward spiral I find myself in day after day.

Between work and my personal life I am online and connected what feels like every minute of every day. While being “plugged in” and available all the time is great it is not always helpful for my productivity and can be very distracting (see above).

Rasmussen College has compiled research from The National Academy of Science and Carnegie Mellon University and displayed it as an infographic. The research shows that the time using media and also trying to multitask has steadily gone up over the past 10 years and that while we might think it makes us more productive it actually leads to stress, inhibition of creativity, inability to solve problems, and slows thinking.

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Your Brain at Work, a book by David Rock, explains how the brain works and why doing things like I try to do only hurts my effectiveness in the end. He does this in easy to understand vignettes focused around examples very similar to those we all face. The sub-title Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus, and working smarter all day long explains how it is helping me to understand how to work more effectively on a daily basis. And really…who doesn’t want to work smarter.

Rock explains that the brain is like a stage and how it takes a lot of energy to keep the show running on that stage. He equates a person’s mindfulness as the director and how much work it is to be the director having to stay highly conscious to what’s going on at all times. In my quest to become less distracted, more focused, and more productive I am learning some new strategies to learn to direct my brain and work smarter. Here are some things I am trying to stay mindful of.

  1. Prioritize the “To Do” List – As I mentioned, Rock suggests thinking of my brain as a stage and you want to get the most important actors (tasks) up first. He says that you need to work on the most important (not the easiest) tasks first since they need casino online the most energy and focus. He is also a big believer in writing things down so that your brain can let go of some information. I start my day now with creating my prioritized to-do list on paper. Then I move on to the task as they are “scheduled”.
  2. Turn off the Distractions – When working on a difficult task I remove distractions before they take over. This means that I may turn off my phone, close out of email, close my office door, and sometimes I even remove myself from my computer totally. I know that the brain gets distracted easily, so I consciously make the decision to remove the distractions that get my brain off task.
  3. Reduce Multitasking – When I find I’m trying to do two things at once I remind myself that my brain can only truly focus on one thing at a time well. To be most effective I need to slow down and continue both tasks knowing I will lose some accuracy and performance or I have to stop one task and focus on the other. Then finish the second task.
  4. Consider Multitasking – If I have to multitask I try to pair a thinking task with a task that is more automatic. Research has shown that the brain can do more than one thing at a time with precision if one of the tasks is embedded and doesn’t take thinking to complete.

With just these few strategies I have started to feel more effective in what I do and guess what…I am only 1/3 of the way through the book. I hope to learn more about my brain and how I can increase my mindfulness in my journey to working smarter and hopefully I can pass on some additional strategies to you.

Have you read Your Brain at Work or other books that have increased your effectiveness and helped you harness your distractions? What tips and strategies would you pass on to help others with these same challenges?

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read this and more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.