How to multitask without breaking your brain [with Scientific Papers]


We all know it. Multitasking is bad for our brain. Even if we are bad at multitasking, we still do our best to live with it. What happens is that we lost a significant portion of our productivity. Constant notifications, distractions, email, SMS, and many more causes us to lose our focus.

All of these are a distraction which forces us to do multitasking. While multitasking is inherently bad, we can still do certain things to make us even efficient. This article is about the tips that can make us work efficiently even if we multitask. We can still be efficient and work in an environment with less stress.

Here are the things you can do to multitask without breaking your brain.

  • Proper Time Management
  • Time Blocking a Specific Time
  • Learning How To Prioritize
  • Try To Focus for More Than 15 Minutes
  • Remove Notifications
  • Remove Unused Tabs
  • Try To Group Tasks
  • Mindfulness

As a general rule, we can multitask without breaking our brains when we learn how to properly manage our time. In time management, we can assign a specific task for a certain time which increases our focus which combats the negative effects of multitasking.

If you are interested in knowing how to properly manage your time, then you may check out another article I’ve made about how time management affects our lives. It is a good read since it gave the benefits of having proper time management which could serve as motivation: How does Time Management affect our lives

1. Proper Time Management

Proper application of time management is the solution to multitasking. When we learn how to manage our time wisely, we tend to use our time to its fullest potential. That means we can be very productive even if we are prone to multitasking.

The reason why multitasking is very bad for our brain is that it was found out that makes our prefrontal cortex smaller which is responsible for our focus.

I’ve also been in that situation and can attest that multitasking does really destroy our focus.

Most of us don’t realize the value of focus on our work. It helps us accomplish more things in as little time as possible.

The way to combat this is by proper time management. When we start to learn how to properly manage our time, we can set a specific time of the day to work on our goals.

We learn how to respect our time with time management, we see that our attention shouldn’t be focused on many things if we want to be more productive.

I know that a lot of you would tell that you are a good multitasker but science say otherwise.

In fact, a research study titled: “In-class multitasking and academic performance” stated that in their research, they’ve found out that Facebook use and text messaging during class were negatively related to the overall GPA of students.[1]

When research papers concluded this, this means that it is a real deal since we’re talking about statistics.

Thus, we know about the bad effects of multitasking in our lives.

But there is a way to regain our focus. Time management is really good in gaining us back from multitasking. While I will share more tips on making you work better with multitasking, this is the ultimate solution.

The reason for this is because having a little bit of multitasking is a good idea. A research paper published in SSRN Electronic Journal suggested that lower levels of multitasking are associated with improved quality of care among healthcare workers.[2]

This means that workers became more productive doing a few multitasking. But too much multitasking will always bad for us.

Thus, this article will also take note of how we can become better at multitasking since it is one of the best skills we can learn in our current work environment filled with emails, messages, and notifications.

The tips for better multitasking are tips 3, 4, 7, and 8.

2. Time Blocking a Specific Time

Time Blocking is a very effective way for us to work better. Time blocking is a concept in which you assign a specific time to work on something which would increase our focus on certain tasks. Our increase in focus makes us more productive in work.

Time blocking is one of the most essential concepts of time management.

When I first tried the time blocking method, it was the best productive moment in my life.

With the increase in focus, we can now start producing more results.

In fact, the value of focus is well documented in research papers. An abstract reported on the UbiComp suggested that when their participants were given blocking software, they discovered that their participants assessed their productivity significantly higher and could focus significantly longer. [3]

Thus, time blocking is an effective way of combating multitasking.

In fact, if there is just one thing I want you to learn from time management, it is how to do time blocks efficiently

3. Learn How To Prioritize

Learning how to prioritize is a very effective way in working efficiently even when multitasking. Having a lot of things to do means that we need to prioritize which is the most important and urgent. That way, we can finish the most important tasks first which makes us more productive.

This tip works really well with multitasking.

If you want to still multitask without losing your mind or breaking your brain, then it is good to start to learn how to prioritize.

In prioritizing, we have to know which is the most important and urgent. Finding these out causes us to prioritize the things that matter at the current time.

For example, my priority right now is to finish this article you are reading right now. I have a lot to do but I am not thinking of them right now because all of my focus is assigned to finish this task.

Thus, it is good to learn how to prioritize.

Remember that to prioritize, you need to find the most urgent and the most important. The rest can follow.

4. Try To Focus for More Than 15 Minutes

When we want to be really productive, we need to try to focus for more than 15 minutes. The reason for this is that science has proven that it takes approximately 15 minutes to get us engaged in a task. Without reaching this level of focus, our work will be severely affected.

The reason for this is because the negative side of multitasking is it increases what others call switching costs.

Switching costs are the energy, time, and willpower we have to pay just to switch on another task.

The basic is the more you switch your focus, the more switching cost you pay.

It takes about 15 minutes for us to be completely focused on a certain task. If we didn’t try to stay focus for at least 15 minutes, we are just working on a shallow and not in a deeper focus state.

Thus, if you want to be proficient in multitasking, learn how to give more than 15 minutes on tasks.

The only exception to this is when you are working on tasks that only take around 2 minutes to finish. If that’s the case, then finish it up fast so we can accomplish more in less time.

But on things that take hours like writing this article, it is better to try to be focused on more than 15 minutes at a time. In fact, focusing on hours will be the best.

5. Remove Notifications

Notifications are the modern time enemy of focus. Because of distractions, we tend to find it really hard to reach our deep focused state which would yield the best quality and productivity. Thus, in order to work without breaking your brain, it is a good idea to remove notifications.

In my case, I find it really good to eliminate as many distractions as possible.

Right now, I have my phone on the other side of the room while typing to prevent loss of focus.

This makes me finish my work fast since I have more things to do.

But you do not need to do it like me, some just put their phone into silent mode while some put their phone on airplane mode.

The lesser notification, the better.

If you are extremely busy with lots of calls, then learn how to block a specific time to answer these calls and notifications.

It is also a good idea to work on the mentally demanding tasks in a quiet place such as early in the morning while the others are still asleep.

6. Remove Unused Tabs

Removing unused tabs is one of the easiest ways to combat the loss of productivity due to multitasking. Multiple tabs tend to get our attention quickly which prevents us from focusing on things that matter at any given time. Thus, try to remove unused tabs when working.

I am a big victim of unused tabs.

Since I am a blogger, I can’t remove the internet while working so there are times that I leave tabs while working.

This shifts my attention when I am not on guard.

I can’t count how many times I should’ve been writing only to find myself an hour later browsing the latest posts from my friends.

Well most of us might be guilty of that but removing unused tabs is way better since we won’t have that temptation to work on other things which remove our focus.

By the way, since we’re talking about social media, check out my youtube channel, I make videos about productivity and self-help: https://ongjason.com/youtube

7. Try To Group Tasks

Trying to group tasks is an effective way to work while multitasking. The reason is simple, some tasks can be grouped together in order for us to have a focused work session. This makes us work proficiently even if we are working on many things at a time.

The one I’m using is that I group my tasks related to social media.

That means, replying to emails, reacting to my comments, and replying to SMS are usually done together. I usually time block 2 sessions throughout the day.

One after doing a full 4 hours of time block which is around 8-9 am, and checking my messages again before 5 pm.

This makes me more efficient since I can check all of my messages at once.

It might look like I’m multitasking but the truth is, I just grouped them together.

Thus, if you can group tasks together, you can be very good at multitasking.

8. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the effective ways of combating the negative effects of multitasking. It was found by science that multitasking reduces the size of people’s prefrontal cortex while mindfulness had been proven to increase its size. So, it is a good way to counter the negative effects of multitasking.

In fact, mindfulness is also a good practice in improving your multitasking capabilities.

In a research study published in Neuron, they found out that Training Improves Multitasking Performance by Increasing the Speed of Information Processing in the Human Prefrontal Cortex.[4]

In short, the participants became better at multitasking once their prefrontal cortex got better.

It was proven by science multiple times that mindfulness is a good way to increase our prefrontal cortex.

In fact, a brain study published in the Journal of Brain and Cognition found out that the prefrontal cortex gets bigger after 8 weeks of continuous mindfulness practice.[5]

So, if you really want to get better at multitasking, learn how to put mindfulness into practice.

Examples of mindfulness are meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises.

Sources:

  1. Junco, Reynol. “In-Class Multitasking and Academic Performance.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 28, no. 6, 2012, pp. 2236–43. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.06.031.
  2. KC, Diwas Singh. “Does Multitasking Improve Performance? Evidence from the Emergency Department.SSRN Electronic Journal, 2013. Crossref, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2261757.
  3. Gloria Mark, Shamsi Iqbal, and Mary Czerwinski. 2017. How blocking distractions affects workplace focus and productivity. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers. 928–934.
  4. Dux, Paul E., et al. “Training Improves Multitasking Performance by Increasing the Speed of Information Processing in Human Prefrontal Cortex.Neuron, vol. 63, no. 1, 2009, pp. 127–38. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2009.06.005.
  5. Tomasino, Barbara, and Franco Fabbro. “Increases in the Right Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex and Decreases the Rostral Prefrontal Cortex Activation After-8 Weeks of Focused Attention Based Mindfulness Meditation.Brain and Cognition, vol. 102, 2016, pp. 46–54. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2015.12.004.

Jason

Jason Ong is a YouTuber and the one who owns this site. He shares what he learned with people and makes videos if necessary. He was a former lecturer. The things he taught are topics related to Clinical Laboratory Science or what others call Medical Technology. Right now, he is also working part-time in an app company as a production supervisor. You can visit his YouTube Channel on https://ongjason.com/youtube

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