By Jenna Anderson
Our world is full of mechanical items, motors, music, crowds. That sound your TV makes in a quiet room. Voices and chairs rolling and children’s toys. Life is full of noise, and not just the kind you hear, either.
There’s visual noise: advertising, street lights, cyclists’ reflective helmet decals, interesting buildings and the latest show on TV. And informational noise: newspapers and television and a million articles online. You can learn about everything you could possibly wish to know: fitness, how to declutter, the best way to fix your car’s headlight, what makes you more productive, how to find the man of your dreams, how to bake the angel food cake of his dreams, the top 10 films of the year, which pet is best for your lifestyle, how to live green … the list goes on and on and on.
These things are not necessarily bad. On the contrary, some of them are great. But, the fact is, all the articles in the paper and news broadcasts and links on your newsfeed are just. Too. Much. They’re a constant distraction. How many people do you know who have their phone permanently stuck to their hand or who always leave their TV on, even if no one is watching?
Multitasking used to be a skill people boasted about, and life does demand some multitasking from us, but studies are now indicating that multitasking isn’t as great as we once thought. To be clear, I’m not talking about normal multitasking, like walking and breathing. I’m referring to any two tasks that both require your brain to be alert: texting and driving, or homework and watching TV. What about going on the computer while you’re talking to someone on the phone? I know I’m guilty of that one (sorry, Dad).
What scientists are concluding is that your brain can’t focus on two things at once. When you try, what you’re actually forcing your brain to do is start one task, then stop in order to start another, but before you get far, you’re stopping to return to the first task or maybe start a third one. And so on. This is like trying to read two books at once, one sentence at a time. Multitasking like this isn’t making you more productive. It’s making you slower, and your work and life are suffering as a result.
I don’t have all the answers. I struggle to do just one thing at a time. But I’ve decided that this is my year to focus and I’ve been trying to adjust my habits. When I’m relaxing and watching a show, I put my phone down and enjoy it. When I’m talking to a friend, I do my best to eliminate distractions. I quit texting and driving a long time ago, but if visibility is bad or the streets are slippery, sometimes I turn the radio off too.
I’m giving my brain the chance to really focus on a task so I can give it my best shot. It’s too soon to tell whether I’m more productive, but it sure is less stressful to work on one thing at a time.
Do some research, check out the articles and see what makes sense for you. Try focusing on one task for a specific time period, like 20 minutes. Put down your phone if you’re doing something else. Your brain is amazing, so give it the space it needs to give you its best work.
Article by Jenna Anderson, a Winnipeg writer and videographer. You can find her on Twitter @reallyjenna.