Slow Down

Tony Schwartz, the author of Be Excellent at Anything, posited that a major problem today is that many of us can’t say no. We’re unable to define a stopping point or establish boundaries when it comes to “work.” In a sense we’ve become multitasking masters where we’re able to spend significant amounts of time juggling 3 or 4 tasks at a time.

We’ve been taught that it’s wrong to do one thing at a time. In fact, multitasking has become a requirement of corporate America. It’s no wonder so many burn out of careers at such an early age. Golden watches and parachutes are no longer a part of corporate America. We’ve traded them in for high blood pressure and insomnia. As a result we’ve become a stressed out society. A society that is just now beginning to understand the harm that multitasking can cause to our most vital organ–the brain.

Brain research has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past few years, thanks in most part to technology. We are able to better understand the impact many things have on our brains. An area of the brain that I focus on in my research and work (executive functions) is the frontal lobe. This area of the brain is where we manage the massive amounts of information that is thrown at us each day.  Our brains work just as hard to ignore and filter information as they do to focus on important information.

We are literally killing our brains with information overload. Too much of anything is not good. One of the biggest culprits to multitasking is the abundance of thoughts that fill our minds while we are engaged in another activity. For the next three days do the following to see for yourself. Take a notepad and place it within reach of your work area. Put a simple tally mark on that notepad each time an unrelated thought to your current task enters your mind. At the end of the day add up the tally marks.

Now estimate how much wasted time each tally mark represents. In one study a group of Microsoft employees took an average of 15 minutes to return back to their prior mental task after being distracted. Sure, you may be able to find your place in the book you were reading before you answered that text message, but your brain is no longer “in the zone.” Bottom line is that rapidly switching between mental tasks causes our brains to work inefficiently. Instead of multitasking seek to narrow your focus on one task. Doing so not only creates a more efficient brain, it can also lead to psychological flow.