Integrative Nutrition Blog

Is Multitasking Ruining Your Productivity? 5 Tips to Get On Track

October 13, 2016

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There’s no doubt that the demands of modern life can be exhausting, especially when you’re balancing work and family life while making sure to get a little self-care too!

Many of us turn to multitasking in order to keep up, hoping that the more tasks we can simultaneously cram into limited clusters of time, the more we’ll accomplish in the long run. While multitasking seems to have become a second nature as a solution to life’s increasingly technology-driven, constantly connected culture - it turns out that multitasking is a powerful (dare we say diabolical?) illusion, according to research. 

While we may think we are doing several things at once, our brains simply don't work that way. What really happens when you “multi-task” is that you are switching between tasks very quickly, losing productivity in the process and creating stress.

According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitan, “multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”

The real way to get more done in less time? Single-tasking!

Just as it takes conscious effort to cut sugar and other junk from the diet, it takes some discipline to wean away the constant desire to do everything at once and instead  become more single-task oriented.

When you truly focus on just one thing at a time, the way your brain is wired to do, you’re applying far more energy to the things that really matter, making it more likely that you’ll execute those things well, rather than just getting by with so-so accomplishments. 

Here are 5 ways to lean into the habit of single-tasking:

1. Get organized.
Choose one place to lay out all your daily tasks, preferably in a hand-written planner where you can give yourself the gratification of physically checking items off the list as you accomplish them. This will begin to replace the distraction-oriented pleasure system in your brain with something more single-task oriented and genuinely productive.

2. Set your 3 daily priorities every morning.  
Similar to the concept of Big Rocks which helps you to prioritize your goals, setting your big three priorities and putting your energy towards completing those things first is crucial. If your cravings for social media are so strong that you can’t disconnect until all the priorities are done, then allow yourself a 10-minute social media “snack” after you accomplish each priority task, before you move on to the next one.

3. Choose one thing as a single-task focus for each week.
Change takes time, take it slow. Every week, choose one thing that you’re currently multitasking and make it a single-task instead. An example is eating breakfast. If you’re used to eating while checking email, try eating while doing nothing else for just one week. Another example could be playing with your kids; try doing just that instead of playing with them while mentally creating your meal plan for the week in your head. Set limits on email and social media checkingin the evening to focus on family time or your bed time ritual. Ask yourself about something you can theoretically single-task if you wanted to, but currently aren’t,and start with that.

4. Dole things out over time.
Ever put 16 things on your to-do list only to accomplish 3 and then feel guilty for not having done more? Try limiting your daily to-do list and assign tasks out over the course of the week or month so that your overall daily list is capped at 6 or 7 max. Plan wisely and watch your confidence and productivity increase as you actually complete more of what really matters at any given time.

5. Practice mindfulness.
Anything that invites you to slow down, appreciate the present moment, and avoid distraction will be a great help in effectively implementing more single-tasking efforts across the board. There are many great apps for mindfulness that you can explore, not to mention meditation, breathing techniques, enjoying nature, cooking, creativity, and anything that helps you put down the juggling act and just be in one place physically and mentally.

How is multitasking or single-tasking working for you? Please share in the comments!

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