In his awesome book The Organized Mind, cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Levitin has quantified how overwhelmed by information the poor human brain is:
“In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986–the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day.”
How do we deal with this overwhelming amount of stuff and information? We multitask.
But multi-tasking is the enemy of focus. It stresses us out and prevents us from doing our most meaningful work. The human brain did not evolve to focus on many things at once; it evolved to focus on one thing at a time. And so the brain does not ever actually multitask. It can’t run multiple apps at any one time; it can only switch rapidly between tasks. This rapid switching is a giant energy drain for your brain.
When we just focus on one task at a time, we’re actually more productive in the long run, and we’re less exhausted at the end of the day. This is because multitasking exhausts more energy and time than single-tasking does.
The first and most important step to finding flow is to build yourself a fortress against interruption, so that you can single-task instead of multitask. If you can’t concentrate, you can’t be in your sweet spot. Period.
This week, find a way to single task — to just focus on one thing, without interruption.
Join the Discussion: What do you need to do so that you are able to really focus on one thing at a time?
Photo courtesy of Mark Hunter.
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Before leaving my office at the end of the work day, I create a list of about 5 priority tasks that I want to work on the following day. This helps me know what to work on the next day and I am much more likely to focus on one thing at time when I have a very short list of to-do’s in from of me.
This is a GREAT tactic. I actually pick out the 3 most important things…
GREAT article and such a vital subject in today’s info-laden world! What people call “Multitasking,” is really inefficient “Task Switching.” When I start to get overwhelmed with a bunch of little things I need to do, I create an instant mini-To Do list and then strictly focus on one little item at a time working my way down the list. Usually in under an hour, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot and have freed my mind from trying to remember everything.
I love the idea of a mini-task list!
Your link to “build yourself a fortress” only states the problem. I was hoping for a solution.
Ah, yes, sorry about that. This post is better: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_tricks_to_help_find_your_sweet_spot
It would help when employers trust and have respect for employees to know how to do quality work, when it is clear they do. Many have already settled on a list of things that need attention, and are in process of focusing on that list, one item at a time, when they have new, additional, “must do now” items added by the boss. This, indeed,” lowers quality” and “increases stress”!
Yes, employers make a huge difference.
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