I often have to fight the urge to check my email, send a text message, and/or check Facebook while I am working, playing with my daughter, or spending time with family. This is not just a problem that adults struggle with. It is one of the most common topics that I talk with kids about during our study skills sessions. With email, social media, text messaging, and the internet continually at our fingertips, many of us live in a state of constant distraction. This instantaneous access to technology makes us believe, more than ever, that we can accomplish many tasks at the same time. If this is true, then why do we end up feeling so stressed, frazzled, and maxed out? After all, we are accomplishing more by multi-tasking, right?
Turns out the answer is probably, no. Humans actually aren’t that good at multi-tasking, as we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. When we try to “multi-task” we actually just switch our attention from one task to the other very quickly. If two tasks are similar, they compete to use the same part of the brain, and can’t both be accomplished at once. For example, think how hard it is to write an essay while having a conversation about a different topic. For this reason, many of us try to divide our time and energy and end up with work that his half done or half as good as we could do.
You may be surprised to find that giving your full attention to one task at a time is more effective and less frustrating. Focusing and completely eliminating distractions is the only way to do your best most efficient work. You can make this happen by focusing on one project or task at a time and blocking out time in your schedule, specifically to complete that task. To avoid temptation, it helps to leave the phone in another room and close Facebook, Twitter, and email. Although it is not possible to avoid all distraction, less multi-tasking could mean more quality time devoted to the people and projects that are important to you.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.