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Whether Single – Tasking Fights Stress and Boosts Productivity?

Monday, October 3, 2016 6:10
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We often feel like there’s not enough time to finish all pending assignments, projects, or other types of commitments we face at work or in school. Most people try to accomplish as much as possible with the help of multitasking. After all, the term itself refers to the ability to do different things at once in order to accomplish more. But, did you ever realize multitasking is bad news for your productivity? If you want to boost your productivity, try single-tasking. You’ll be surprised.

Why isn’t multitasking beneficial?
Our multitasking efforts usually fall apart due to one reason – our brain can’t multitask. Your mind is programmed to think about one thing or problem at a time. Let’s face it; you’ve never thought about many different problems at the same time. Why? It’s because that’s not possible. What you’re doing is switching from one assignment or project onto the next one.

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According to the author of Think Eat Move Thrive and co-founder of Healthy Scoop, James Rouse, we finish about 50% less when attempting to multitask. That’s why trying to do more things at once is bad for our productivity. Plus, it prevents us from being mindful of things we’re doing because we are constantly in the rush to move to next chore.

Adverse effects of multitasking aren’t just some claims without strong foundation. In fact, multiple studies have evaluated this method and discovered it just doesn’t work. The Psychological Science published a study which showed that high cognitive load severely impairs performance, particularly when complex and accurate judgments are necessary.

Furthermore, a research featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA found that increasing number of things to which the brain has to pay attention can result in bottlenecks with tremendous potential to block awareness of relevant information. At this point, a person’s ability to make decisions suffers.

Researchers at the Stanford University discovered that multitasking affects performance and potentially damages the brain. They found that multitasking is, in fact, less productive than doing things one by one. Furthermore, individuals who are constantly bombarded with different streams of electronic information can’t recall information, pay attention, or switch from one job to another easily. Besides slowing you down and decreasing productivity, multitasking also lowers IQ according to this study.

The reason multitasking adds to stress is simple; whenever demands exceed abilities, stress is bound to happen. When you choose to do more things at once, particularly in a shorter period of time, the brain responds to the outrageous demands by pumping out adrenaline and other stress hormones that put you on the “edge”. While these hormones provide a quick energy boost, this energy isn’t helpful for your multitasking effort at all. Steady flow of stress hormones can strain the body and endanger your health.  

How to improve productivity?
If you have ever Googled different tips to boost productivity, you’ve probably come across various ways to multitask. And it’s true; experts used to give advice on how to improve your multitasking skills to do more things at once. The story is much different nowadays. With the growing body of evidence suggesting that multitasking just doesn’t work because our mind can focus on one thing at a time, experts recommend more practical things. It’s all about being present in the moment so you can concentrate on one activity – single-tasking.

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Concentrating on one activity at a time allows you to be mindful of what you do, evaluate the information you’d usually miss, and finish the chore at a faster rate. You can improve the single-tasking skills with the tips listed below:

  •  Start with one change – choose one activity that you’ll concentrate on this week e.g. putting the phone away while working, eating breakfast mindfully, and so on. The point here is to learn how to eliminate distractions gradually
  • Encourage single-tasking with others – you can start small by agreeing with your friends or family not to use phones when eating, turn off the TV when guests come over
  • Instead of checking your phone first as soon as open your eyes in the morning, get up, stretch, have well-balanced breakfast
  • Walk – one of the easiest ways to learn how to single-task is to go out for a walk without your phone or earplugs
  • Schedule time for the toughest task – the best way to eliminate distraction is to avoid procrastination

You can also:

  • Schedule time to check social media e.g. after you finish the assignment you’re working on – this will prevent you from checking notifications and replying to texts when working
  • Only keep one tab of the browser open
  • Work offline whenever possible
  • Make a single-tasking plan you’ll stick to

Productivity boost via multitasking is something that most people want to achieve without realizing that performing more things at once is the deadliest killer of productivity and concentration. The brain itself is unable to focus on more things or chores at once which is why single-tasking represents the best way to get things done. Learn to eliminate distractions and practice your ability to focus on one thing only in order to resolve it successfully. It’s easier than you think!


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