Bryan E. Robinson
“The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.”—Henry David Thoreau
Chances are you’re not buying the opening quote, but I promise it’s true. If you’re like many people, you’re so accustomed to multitasking you might believe it’s the only way to reach your goals. If modern life has made it necessary for you to juggle many tasks at once to get everything done, you could be one of millions who considers this strategy to be an essential survival tool in a culture that expects you to change tires going eighty miles an hour.
It’s Counter-intuitive But True
While you might think multitasking is the ticket to more productivity, experts disagree. They say juggling emails, phone calls, and text messages actually inhibit your ability to focus and produce. It fatigues your brain and eclipses your ability to interact with others and enjoy the present moment. From the outside, a multitasker bursting with activity looks productive and busy. But don’t believe everything you see. Scientists say that an initial burst of increased work hours increases productivity, but over time long hours eventually decrease productivity. And an 80-hour workweek can lead to a burned outbrain in less than four weeks.
It’s Simple Science
University of Michigan researchers discovered that when you bounce between several tasks at once, you’re actually forcing your brain to keep refocusing with each rebound and reducing productivity by up to 40 percent. Not only does multitasking undermine productivity, it neutralizes efficiency and quality of the outcome, creating several half-baked projects that can leave you overwhelmed and stressed out.
Studies from Stanford University confirm that heavy multitaskers have trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, creating greater stress. In an effort to handle the overload from prolonged multitasking, scientists say your brain rewires, causing fractured thinking, lack of concentration, and brain fatigue. As a result, multitaskers take longer to switch among tasks and are less efficient at juggling problems than non-multitaskers.
Your Decision-Fatigued Brain
At some point you might have to perform more than one activity at a time. But once multitasking becomes a pattern, it can backfire. When you make simultaneous multiple decisions days on end, you can wear out your brain. Scientists have discovered a phenomenon known as decision fatigue. Your fatigued brain may make different decisions from the kinds of choices you make after your brain has rested. The more you multitask and the more choices you make, the more difficult it is for your brain to make even simple decisions: what to wear, where to eat, how much to spend, or how to prioritize work projects? Brain fatigue can lead to shortcuts such as permitting your newly licensed teenager to drive the car on an icy night or opting out of decision making at home. And it can cause you to be short with colleagues, eat junk food instead of healthy meals, and forego exercise.
Tips to Prevent Mind Fatigue and Create a Happy Brain
It’s a paradox, but the more you saunter, instead of speed, the more productive, efficient, and successful you will become. Here are some tips to help you put the brakes on multitasking, remain productive, and avoid frying your brain:
1. Don’t let email and text pings interrupt a task. You’ll keep your stress level down.
2. Delegate tasks when possible. You’ll have less on your plate and more time to focus on one thing at a time.
3. Engage in fewer simultaneous tasks and slow down your pace. Slowing down can actually catapult your happiness, well-being, and success. Remember Aesop’s Fables? The tortoise—not the hare—won the race.
4. Prioritize the most important tasks one at a time and finish one big project before launching another. You’re less likely to get overwhelmed.
5. Keep your mind from jumping to another task by writing it down so you won’t forget it, and return to it after you complete your current project. You’ll have better focus and concentration.
6. Bring your attention to the present moment once in a while, notice what’s around you, and breathe. This is called mindful open awareness. You’ll be less stressed and more productive and successful in the long run.
7. Saunter to your tasks and perform one at a time to keep relationshipsalive. Hurrying and multitasking block important connections with colleagues and loved ones. Sauntering in present time allows your to engage with the people around you.
8. Chill your brain between appointments. Brisk exercise, relaxing in nature, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, massage and tai chi are ways to create a happy brain.
You don’t have to continue to allow external or internal pressures to dictate your life, clog your brain, and burn you out. Your mind and body weren’t designed to stay on red alert 24/7 so you can speed from task to task. Unless you’re under threat, you were designed to saunter. When you can slow down and savor the tasks you’ve been rushing through, ease and stillness keep your energy up, mind clear, and productivity high. So step back, take a breath, and chill. By the end of the day, you will have time left over for the things you want to do, your brain will be happier, and you won’t wear it out before its time.