You know that feeling you get when you open up your internet browser and there are just SO MANY TABS open? Does it ever feel like that’s your brain sometimes?
We live in a world where we want to do all the things, know all the things, and think about all the things…and we want to do it all RIGHT NOW. We forget how important it is to simply slow down and focus on one thing at a time, instead of trying to do it all at once.
Let me be clear, there is no such thing as multitasking. It is a fun word we made up to make us feel like we can do all sorts of things at once. We cannot. That is not how our brains work. A more accurate description is “task switching,” because that is what our brains are actually doing when we think we’re multitasking. Our brains hop from one task to another, and we lose concentration and focus each time we shift to that different task.
Research has shown that attempting to multitask, or “task switching,” makes us more distracted, less efficient and less attentive, and makes it more likely that we will miss important information. It is also a trigger for anxiety and increased stress because we are trying to do AND think about too many things at one time.
So how do we learn to slow it down and focus on one thing at a time? First of all, let’s start by being gentle with ourselves, because this is a practice, and it is much easier said than done. Here are a few tips to begin practicing “single-tasking” in your life:
- Notice that you’re task-switching. That’s it. Simply notice. Once you are more aware of what you’re doing, you’re putting yourself in a position to be able to make a change.
- Take your to-do list out of your brain and onto a piece of paper. If a thought or task continues to distract you when you’re trying to focus on something else, it is okay to take a moment to write it down and dump it out of your brain, then go back to the task at hand.
- Set timers so you can be more intentional with your time. For instance, if you’re working from home but that load of laundry is staring at you while you work, set a timer for yourself for how long you’re going to focus on your work. When that timer goes off, get up, stretch your body, and do the laundry. When that task is complete, move to the next task.
- Be more intentional with your phone. How you choose to do this depends entirely on you, but start to notice what does/doesn’t work for you. For example, my phone goes on Do Not Disturb at specific times each day, because I do not want to be interrupted/distracted at all moments of the day. I also shut off notifications for all apps, and will only receive notifications for text messages or phone calls. Some days, I really need a detox and will just keep my phone in a faraway room where I won’t be tempted to grab it and stare at it like a zombie. Again, find what works FOR YOU and be honest with yourself about whether it is actually working for you or whether you need to make a change.
- Don’t say yes to everything. You are allowed to say no to a new task, to going to a party when your schedule is already packed, or to basically anything else you choose. Practice giving yourself time to think before you say yes to something, so that you can decide whether it fits into your life at the moment.
- Accept that you won’t get it at all done. There will always be more to do, more tabs to open. Let’s be realistic with our daily goals, prioritize our needs, and be kind to ourselves in the process.
These are just a few of many ideas. As always, if you feel you could benefit from professional support in moving you toward a life that you want to live, don’t hesitate to reach out!