Words by Tess Robinson, Smack Bang Designs
Let’s just say you’re driving the car. And listening to the news while eating a dirty kebab, talking to your mum over loud speaker while planning your wedding inside your head. Simultaneously wondering whether old Aunt Mae would mind being seated next to your hill-billy-pot-smoking cousin, Dave. Pretty amazing right? Some would say you’ve got multi-skillz. But let me tell you, it’s all fun and games until the greasy lamb flops out of its cosy little pita bread and slides down your leg inside your shoe. Or further still, you land yourself in an accident and the awkward encounter of giving old-mate-dented-number-plate your driver’s license number with a suspicious stain trailing down your upper thigh.
Serves you right for eating a dirty kebab, right?! Well yes, kind of. But mostly, it serves you right for multitasking like a malfunctioning office printer.
All of us have been guilty of doing far too many things at once. Most of us, in fact, do this every single day of our lives. We switch from our inbox, to our colleague, to our Instagram feed and back to our inbox. We hot potato the 22 open Google Chrome tabs, answer that call, screen that other call and then return that call. We’re all so pumped up on cortisol and exhausted by our daily demands, that naturally, when our well-meaning intern innocently asks if we wanted the postcard A6 or A5, you snap, ‘Since when did postcards come with options?!’.
As humans, our brains aren’t wired to multitask. And yet, we all live with far too many tabs open in our brain on a regular basis.
If we demand our attention to jump from one thing to another, we will have a busy, fractured and most likely, unproductive day. Science has proven multitasking to be a myth, and that although we think we’re super human and ticking tasks like it’s another notch on our victory belt, we are actually merely task-switching. That’s a bit of a hit to the multitask ego, right?
Switching tasks requires a second level of executive functioning, meaning you use a truckload of brain power and precious energy before even starting on the task. This task-switching overhead can actually become a serious drain on your overall effectiveness. Nothing gets your full attention and nothing gets your full effort. This results in jumbled thoughts, distracted actions and a collateral of chaos in your brain.
In this stressful world of go, go, go, what we’ve lost, above all, are the stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. It’s time to take it back a notch and concentrate on one thing at a time instead of adding more and more to the circus show.
I’m certainly no stranger here. The truth is, I often find myself maxing out at capacity feeling like a crazy person. After finally ticking off all my tasks in a chaotic scramble, I finish my day simultaneously feeling like I got million things done and nothing done at all. I often feel restless, anxious and disconnected.
I know instinctively (and from my own experience) that my days are truly more productive (and enjoyable) when I focus my time and energy on one thing at a time. I also realise that this way of working is the only time I ever find myself in the creative flow.
You are what you repeatedly do, so if your routine is frazzled, frantic and all-over-the-shop, don’t be surprised to see some crazy eyes staring back at you in the mirror next time you catch your reflection. Instead, remember that time is the most valuable asset you own, and so plan to use it wisely. Here are some top little tips to get you back to that one-track-mind concerned with getting shiz done!
SHUT OUT DISTRACTIONS
Block them out, shut them off and focus on the task at hand with no distractions. You’ll notice the first thing that happens is that your mind begins to complain. “I’m bored. This is snoresville. The Bachelor finale is on right now. Why can’t I just pour a glass of vino and check who’s looked at my latest insta-story?” You’ll experience anything from mild discomfort to an almost catatonic state of severe task-lethargy. Sounds deadly, but you’ll survive.
DON’T START UNTIL YOU’RE FINISHED
The most basic definition of concentration is doing one thing at a time. Its simple, if you’re working on one thing, don’t start something else until you’re done working on that thing. Your mind might start to taunt you: ‘Check your emails, Melissa.’ ‘Take 5 to look out the window, Matthew.’ No. This is definition multi-tasking kicking into gear, and it is code for lacking discipline. Train yourself to stay focused on the task at hand and resist the urge to look in that empty fridge of yours… again.
GUARD YOUR TIME
The only way to survive (without checking yourself into rehab each year), is by protecting your time. It’s far too easy to give the world what they want, and have no time left over to do the things that really matter to you. Learn the art of saying no and build yourself some fences to keep the distractions out.
RENEW YOUR MIND
Create at least one time during the day when you check back into your heartspace specifically to clear your headspace. It might be a lunchtime yoga class, a walk around the block or perhaps just a few deep breaths. When you give yourself the headspace and time to catch your breath, you claim your humanity back.
Distractions are rife in this ADHD world. People approach you, colleagues interrupt you, friends want to just have a fun chat. Adopt a friendly but disciplined response to let them know that you will get back to them once you are done with your task. You’ll feel oodles and oodles better in the long run, trust us. If something simply cannot wait, drop what you’re doing, engage 100%, then dive straight back into the same task.
CHOOSE TO COMMIT
Single-tasking obliges you to do one thing at a time and commit to that one task, excluding any other demands at that moment. This means you need to prioritise your tasks, genuinely commit to your choice and don’t look back. Committing to anything can be an absolute headache at the beginning (literally — I Quit Sugar, anybody? Torture!). However, we all know that in the long run, committing to a goal or objective makes your focus razor-sharp and absolutely explodes your chances of success in that area. Get committed, get focused, and get better results!
People, take a flipping holiday! And by holiday, I don’t mean a trip to an exotic location, laptop in tow. A real holiday means that when you’re off, you’re truly disconnected from your work and not keeping your finger on the pulse. A true holiday is forgetting that you ever paid rent or the mortgage, that there was such thing as a supermarket, and that washing the dishes was a typical daily chore. You should forget you have a day-job too, at least for a time to let your brain recover and your heart take the wheel with your other passion. Taking regular holidays gives you fresh perspective, new ideas and recharges your creativity.
TRAIN YOUR BRAIN
How often do you meet someone and instantly forget their name? This indicates that a) your mind was distracted, or b) that person didn’t capture your undivided attention. I believe the inability to concentrate and focus on a name or conversation is a result of your brain constantly trying to be in multiple places at once and not able to zone in and focus on the person in front of you. Be present! The saying ‘be where you are’ might sound a little wispy and elusive, but there’s realness in grasping the moment you are in. You, and others around you, will respond better to this focused mindset.
Our conscious brain (10% of our overall thinking capacity) needs to access our subconscious brain (which governs 90% of our cerebral activity). The ‘magic’ happens when we have fewer distractions, we’re feeling relaxed, being more ourselves and, therefore, more open to possibility and inspiration. For some of you, that means ‘Turn. Off. Your. Phone.’ For others, ‘Stop. Surfing. Random. YouTube. Channels.’ You often know what it is you need to switch off, but you need to switch your brain on to actually remove the clutter.
THE BIG PICTURE
Sometimes, you’ve just gotta hop into that helicopter in your imagination, take it into the sky and observe your life from the air. Big picture thinking is absolutely crucial to forming goals, laying out plans and helping you visualise and obtain your dreams. Pencil in regular times to think, dream, plan, envision and hope for the future. If you don’t give time to the possibilities of the long-term, you will find yourself constantly stuck on the hamster wheel of urgency. Open-ended thinking is incredibly inspiring as your mind is able to focus on possibilities and declutter itself a little to see objectively what you really need to focus your attention on in order to reach for the stars.
LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
One of the reasons why I multitask is because I’m a full-blown type-A personality and am constantly trying to be more productive. Not only do I put pressure on myself to check off a million things in one day, but I ask myself to do them all at once. It may seem counter-intuitive and a bit too ‘Zen’ to just do one thing at a time, but by zoning in on one task and dropping the insane pressures you put on yourself you can actually be so much more productive, and HAPPY!