Now that just about everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, a desktop, Google glasses, Buck Rogers watches, Star Trek Communicators, embedded chips in the brain, etc., it’s no surprise that the average person is doing too many things at once, elegantly referred to as “multitasking.” We are slaves to connectivity.
You might think that talking on the phone while surfing the web and taking notes on your iPad means you are “working smart, not hard” and getting three things done at once, BUT the truth is that you can’t be productive while doing so much simultaneously. Lots of studies bear that truth out and you can Google it if you want proof. Since technology is embedded in the natural flow of our life now, it’s hard to develop a “stopping point” when it comes to work or social media. Each new email, text message, or phone call pulls us away from a genuine disconnected time of refreshment and tightens the electronic ball and chain.
When you split your attention between different tasks, your productivity will suffer primarily because of disruption: you have to mentally and physically “start and stop” over and over, re-calibrating your attention and flow of thought each time. While a single “start/stop” might be a fraction of a second, hundreds of times a day adds up both in real time and mental fatigue. Just as important: how do you feel when you are speaking with a co-worker (or family member) that can’t even turn away from the computer to look you in the face while you are talking to them or is constantly glancing at their phone for the latest text or social message? Or someone who picks up a phone call when you are in the middle of a conversation? You get the idea.
Our brains need a break. Whether it’s walking away from our work space for 10 minutes and taking a short walk, or just sitting and listening to music for a few minutes without distractions. Rather than being in “go-go-go” mode all day and crashing at the end of it, taking a few short breaks (true breaks: no email, no phone calls/texts) can refresh us for the next couple of hours and dramatically improve our productivity.
We’ve all heard the term “boundaries” – usually in the context of relationships (i.e. setting some boundaries for someone who intrudes too much) – but it’s relevant when talking about people who work too much and refuse to unhook from their electronic ball and chain enough to truly rest and refresh their minds. Here’s some ideas:
- Take a regular electronic-free vacation: Even if it is just a day or two added to your weekend, get away from being “connected.” Don’t take your distractions with (except those needed for an emergency, but strongly resist the urge to spend your time poolside checking your email).
- Schedule some time to think: If you never set aside time simply to plan and think about where you are at, what you wish to accomplish in the near term, and how you can get there, you are going to have a hard time accomplishing anything. If you are just “putting out fires” or doing things that have to be done that day, you will not have time to plan for the future. Try to pick a place away from your usual environment and distractions. Plan some time to plan.
- Identify your “most important” tasks and do them right away: Know what your priorities are and complete those tasks right away in the morning when you are the most refreshed and alert. Try to work alone and avoid all distractions. The more focused you are on just that ONE task, the more productive you will be.
MULTITASKING sounds great, and looks impressive but it is the rare person who truly increases their productivity by multitasking. As well, the relentless electronic ball and chain robs of us opportunity to truly disconnect for some true mental refreshment.
- Work on starting and finishing a task and stay disconnected until that task is done.
- Plan a short period of time each day to be disconnected so your brain can function without disruption.
- Plan some “electronic free vacation” time to give your mind a break from it all.
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