Multitasking seems like a great idea in theory. Doing multiple things at once may seem super efficient at the time, but it actually doesn’t work out that way.

Take a moment and imagine this. You are working on a project for work. A coworker stops in to chat and while chatting you answer a short email. Before your conversation ends, you receive a text from a client on your phone. You reply to the text, finish up your conversation, and turn back to the project you have been working on. Soon after, you get an invite to tomorrow’s staff meeting. You hit “accept”. Then you click back and forth between your project, your calendar, the dress you’ve been eyeing, and your Instagram – before realizing it’s 6 p.m. already.

Insanely busy day, right? You got so much done! Wrong. Multitasking in our world of alerts, dings, and texts seems essential and research from Ohio State University shows it even feels satisfying. However, science begs to differ. Multiple studies have shown that multitasking actually leads to more errors, reduced productivity, increased stress, and memory impairment. It actually creates the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. Our brains simply aren’t built to focus on more than one thing at a time. 

It’s a bandwidth issue. When we multitask, our brains are forced to shuffle back and forth between activities. This causes us to split up mental resources needed to focus and results in worse performance. A Carnegie Mellon University study showed that people who were on the phone merely listening to someone while driving (a very low-level distraction) showed a 37% reduction in spatial processing and poorer driving skills. Scary stuff.

We don’t really do two tasks at the same time, we just go back and forth quickly. Even though each switch takes only a second, those amounts can add up to big chunks of lost productivity. It can cause a 20-40% reduction in overall efficiency, according to University of Michigan research. Multitasking can also impair your ability to store memories and learn new things. That is the very definition of counterproductive.

Here are a few tips to avoid multitasking and increase your focus:

#1 Don’t start your morning with your phone. Get out of bed right away to get your day started. Wait an hour before looking at your phone.

#2 Reduce distractions. Turn off notifications and put your phone on silent.

#3 Start your day with a to-do list and number your tasks. Complete the tasks in that order. Start with your top three priorities in the beginning of your day. Then plan your day accordingly. This helps your brain know what you want to accomplish, which will help you stay focused.

#4 Schedule mini breaks in between tasks. Take a quick walk or grab a cup of coffee. This will help you stay focused while working. A 5 minute break can make a big difference.

#5 Don’t let small tasks interrupt big tasks. 

#6 Finish before you start. Make sure you finish one task fully before starting the next one.

#7 Make your computer a full screen. It helps also if you minimize all other windows and even close other tabs if you can.

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