How to ditch multitasking and get more done

“Men have become tools of their tools,” Thoreau wrote over a century ago, long before cell phones, laptops, and tablets flooded the workplace. If he were alive today he’d be shocked at how accurate he was.

Technology has created more digital distractions than we can handle, with the typical office worker being interrupted every 11 minutes. During an average day, when we are inundated with disruptions, is it any wonder that we turn to multitasking? On the surface multitasking seems to offer us the ability to blend an interruption into our original task(s).

However, social scientists have toppled the notion of multitasking as a viable solution. Multitasking reduces learning and hurts productivity. So how do we break our bad habits and focus on one task at a time?

How to focus

We interrupt our own work half the time, according to Gloria Mark, a professor who studies digital distractions at the University of California, Irvine. Mindfulness can certainly help with cutting down on self-interruptions, but what about interruptions from others?

In fact, practicing mindfulness can help with staying focused on one task when others try to interrupt us, too. After all, many of the interruptions are ones that we can ignore for a little while — if we have the self-control to do so.

While we should respond to our supervisor if he or she stops by our desk, we don’t need to check an email the second it hits our inbox or immediately respond to an instant message that pops up on our computer screen.

Due to its emphasis on disengaging automatic thinking, mindfulness gives practitioners greater ability to regulate their own behavior. Practicing mindfulness also increases our capacity to sustain our focus. Both increased self-regulation and capacity to focus will help you stay on a task until it is complete.

Give mindfulness a try and become the master of your tools.

What impact did practicing mindfulness have on your focus and productivity? Let me know; I’d be thrilled to hear from you!

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