With our routines suddenly upended, many of us are organizing our days in new ways to accommodate working from home (WFH) and learning remotely—all while managing household responsibilities. Feeling pulled in so many directions, it is tempting to multitask. But we at the Center for BrainHealth want to remind you about the myth of multitasking. It’s actually hurting your productivity, interfering with brain systems and adding to your stress levels.
The fact is, the brain is just not designed for multitasking. Science very clearly demonstrates that when presented with competing tasks that require thought, the brain rapidly switches between them. This rapid switching comes at a high cost to our brain function—neurally, cognitively, and overall wellbeing. It’s a toxic habit that leads to shallow and less focused thinking, depleted creativity and an increased tendency to make errors. And over time it contributes to chronic stress, which is known to be detrimental to brain health.
Single-tasking is the antidote—we call it “the brain power of one.” Practice these three tips to promote this brain-healthy habit, offered by Center for BrainHealth clinician Stacy Vernon, MS, LPC, NCC:
- Limit distractions: Extra stimuli in your environment take away from your brain power when you need to think deeply and creatively, so protect your workspace from common distractors—including people and pets as well as notifications on your digital devices.
- Create a brain management schedule: Plan your day so you can carve out time to focus on tasks requiring deep thinking—even if it is just for 15 to 20 minutes—during a time when you allow no interruptions.
- Jot down things that come to mind spontaneously: Our mind is an amazing organ—like when we suddenly think of something we almost forgot to do. The idea comes to mind and then takes over our thoughts or diverts our action. One of the biggest culprits that hinders single-tasking is our busy-brain syndrome—thinking about other ‘to-dos’ while we are working on a task. We know that life happens anyway, but by keeping a writing pad nearby you can make a quick note rather than jumping into the new task. You will feel a sense of resolution, and most importantly, your brain can remain calm, in the zone and continue to think deeply and stay focused.
In these challenging times, we are even more vividly reminded of the importance of doing everything in our control to keep our brain as fit as possible to maintain our overall health and wellbeing. That is what drives our work at the Center—and we look forward to continuing to share more insights to help you thrive and build mental resilience despite this crisis. If you missed my previous messages with other brain-healthy tips, you can find them here.
I am so glad to be able to connect with you, our BrainHealth community, through these weekly messages. Please feel free to share these insights with friends and colleagues or sharing the posts on our LinkedIn page. From all of us at the Center, please stay well!
Published April 3, 2020
See more messages from our Chief Director, Sandra Chapman, PhD here.