Many of us feel more humanoid than human. We find ourselves turning from one activity to the next like robots that have misplaced their heads. We’re doing more— and as incredulous as it may sound, much of it at the same time. “We are doing the jobs of 10 different people while trying to keep up with our lives, our children, our parents, our friends, our careers, our hobbies and favorite TV shows,” writes nueroscientist, Daniel J. Levitin, in a recent article in the Guardian, exploring the ill effects of the modern world on our brains.
It is little wonder we feel overwhelmed and depleted of our physical, mental and spiritual energy? Many days we ask ourselves, Why don’t I have more to show for my efforts? Why am I so tired? Why does the work pile up? The problems – and paradoxically the solutions — can be found in the challenges posed by the digital age. While our technology allows us to communicate more and in many different ways, we are also constantly distracted. Nevertheless, a higher premium than ever is placed on our ability to juggle it all or multitask.
We must remember we inherited the idea of performing many processes at the same time from computer engineering. The function was expected of machines not a standard for human competency. Nonetheless, it is the skill set du jour and likely tomorrow. It’s listed in our job descriptions and performance evaluations. We must e-mail, text message, Facebook and Twitter. And, of course, our electronic and mobile devices, including laptops, are never far from our sides 24/7 to help us juggle. But research confirms our experiences:
Multitasking does not necessarily increase production or improve efficiencies. In fact, it may even be bad for your brain, reducing your IQ level.
If anything, it is becoming harder to focus and get things done. This growing phenomenon has acquired a name and is even the subject of new social research: the epidemic of distraction. Distractions come in many disguises in a multitasking, digital environment. They’re most tempting when we're challenged and the going gets tough.
It's easier to get sidetracked when your end goal is beyond your field of vision or when you're just plain weary. If you’re not careful though, before you know it, you’ll find you’ve wasted valuable time and taken several steps back, because of the smallest, most insignificant activities. You don't have to succomb to the distractions of multitasking mania.
Here’s an action plan to help you stay focused, and reclaim your productivity peace of mind.
Set goals and stick to them. Remember, most distractions vying for your attention now are likely going to still be around when you achieve your goal. You can circle back to them. Be patient and pay attention to the mission at hand. Questions to ask yourself:
What does this have to do with what I’m trying to accomplish?
How does it help me reach my goal?
Will this still be around when my goal is achieved?
Write it down. Making an old-fashioned to-do-list at the beginning of each day or for the week. This can be a very centering as well as practical activity. It gives you reflection time and helps you feel more focused. Include all the things you need to do no matter how small. Include your personal business such as hair appointments and taking the dog to the groomers. Making lists help you to prioritize. As you check off items, it will give your sense of accomplishment and help you to focus on one task at a time.
Stay calm. This takes practice, but the more you practice, the better you get. Staying calm strengthens your ability to take things in stride and complete your tasks even in the face of difficult circumstances. If you’re stressed or feeling emotionally charged, take a step back and allow yourself to regroup. Taking short breaks helps you release stress and refresh yourself. Take a walk to the restroom or just get up and move about the office or room. Once you've hit the target, take as much time as you want to relax and give attention to other things. Until then, stay the course. Your victories are much more satisfying when you give your full attention to achieving them. Completing your important tasks will help you let go of worrying and other stress, and build a positive sense of momentum.
Pick your battles. Refuse to enter into unnecessary arguments or other disagreements with others. This doesn’t mean avoiding taking a stand and exercising leadership on behalf of yourself and the greater good when it is needed. But staying positive and focused on your responsibilities, regardless of the circumstances, enables you to better handle pressure and get the job done in the short and long run.
Set boundaries. When and how often do you check email, Facebook, your cellphone? Do you take your own calls or leave that to a front-office person? Every one of these is pulling you away from your main business. Schedule specific times to address these issues — and stick to the schedule. It’s up to you to make sure you have uninterrupted time to do your real job.
Get to the bottom of procrastination: Finally, putting off important matters may be more a question of emotion than distractions. Are you harboring fears related to the task or project? Are you anxious you don't have the skills or enough information to accomplish the assignment? It can be very clarifying to spend time with a pencil and paper reflecting on the reasons why you aren't tackling something. Once you get to the bottom of your procrastination you can figure out how to fix it or get the help you need.