By Dr. Roger Landry
If you look at the latest job listings, I guarantee that a large percentage of them will read, “Must be able to multitask and work under pressure in a deadline-driven, fast paced environment…” These descriptions should say, “…where creativity and your health and well-being are not important. True humans need not apply.”
Technology and societal values delude us into believing we are indeed effectively driving, drinking our coffee, talking on the phone, thinking of the upcoming meeting, and railing against the jerk who just cut in front of us. Multitasking in most cases is code for chattering mind, the plague of our modern society. Multitasking is so pervasive that a recent study from the University of Virginia found that most people would rather experience mild electric shock than be left alone, without tasks, for fifteen minutes.
The Maladaptation of Multitasking
For most of the time man has been on earth time had little meaning. There was sunrise and sunset and the seasons. Our physiology is still that of these ancestors, not yet adapted to our new fast-paced world, where time seems to dominate.
Research has consistently shown that multitasking actually blunts productivity and creativity. Our brains do not in fact, process several things at once, but instead jump from one topic to the next, resulting in mistakes –up to 40% more mistakes than if we were to work on tasks one at a time. And creativity? The great masters of thought, like Einstein tell us that the great breakthroughs came when their minds were quiet. Probably even more important is that our relationships suffer from our chronic distractions and perceived need to do more and more.
The end result of this obsession with productivity and chattering mind, which thwarts creativity and hurts human interaction? A pervasive and toxic chronic stress, which raises risks for heart disease, dementia, depression and even cancer. Our sense of accomplishment is enhanced at the expense of our wellbeing … even our very humanity.
Wherever You Are … Be There
Technology has provided us with fantastic capabilities. One of them is multiple ways of “communicating.” However, always being “plugged in” is not necessarily being socially connected or even more productive; it’s being technologically constrained. We can easily become prisoners of our phones, texts, or emails and the multitasking they foster.
So, how can we be productive without giving up our creativity, health or humanity? A start is to be “in the moment” no matter what you’re doing. Here are five suggestions.
Five Tips Towards Humanistic Productivity
- Work Sequentially – My esteemed colleague, Dr. Sandi Chapman, the Founder and Chief Director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of Make Your Brain Smarter, advises us about the “power of one.” That is, our brains are not wired to do two things at once. Instead of multitasking, she recommends we sequential task. That may mean that we have to put the “do not disturb” sign on our office door or schedule specific time during the day where we take phone calls or answer email – whatever you need to do in order to focus on a single task at a time.
- Make a List of Things You Must Do – Create your to-do list for several days at a time and use this to prioritize your tasks. Allow at least an hour of extra time each day as a “buffer” in the event that a task takes longer than expected. Make sure that, in addition to work tasks, you schedule time to unplug.
- Unplug Regularly – Schedule several blocks of time where you can be technologically “unplugged” for at least an hour (sleeping doesn’t count). That may mean one hour in the morning, one hour at dinner, and an hour before you go to bed. During that time, refrain from checking your cell phone for calls, emails, or texts or logging on to your computer to surf the net. Devote this time to read, participate in a hobby or meet a friend for lunch – anything that does not involve something that begins with an “e” or “i” such as email or iPhone.
- Practice Mindfulness – Take control of your chattering mind. As thoughts or worries come up that cause you to think about anything other than what you are doing at a given moment, guide yourself back to the present moment. One way to do this is by stopping, drawing your attention to your breath, noticing your inhalation and exhalation for several deep breaths, and then returning to the task at hand. The contemporary mystic Osho also advises doing a periodic stop … stopping dead in your tracks for 30 seconds to observe where your mind is and what it’s doing.
- Be Generous With Yourself – Take inventory of how you spend your time. Observe if; in fact, you never allow yourself a moment of quiet mind or body. Or, when you do, it is with brain-numbing activities such as prolonged TV watching (or worse, alcohol or drugs)? Get the sleep you require … limiting sleep to accomplish more is insanity. Find something that brings you peace, a sense of purpose, and makes time go away … and do it regularly.
By curbing the addictive need to multitask, and mindfully focusing on a single task at a time, you will be surprised at how much more productive and creative you’ll become. But, even more important you will be on your way to better health and aging. Live Long! Live Well!