“I’m a person of whim, and easily distracted. I don’t like multitasking. When I’m doing one thing, I like to do just that thing.” – Margaret Atwood
Multitasking is working with split attention and currently enjoys a great reputation, but the fact is that we are never actually multitasking. Instead the brain switches between tasks so quickly that it feels we are performing each activity in succession. Imagine a machine were to switch between tasks. We know how much downtime is involved, changeover operations have to be scheduled and performed fully, else the machine will malfunction during the process. It’s not easy for our brain to switch tasks. It takes time and invokes a second level of executive functioning, meaning that we have to use a lot of resources to switch tasks. Do we pause to think what kind of costs we are loading on each task switch? Multitasking drains our effectiveness. We end up performing each activity far more poorly than if we had done it on its own. And the task-switching overhead multiplies exponentially with the number of things being juggled.
The antidote to doing too many things at once is, of course, to only do one thing at a time. That’s the most basic definition of concentration: doing one thing at a time. It is the easiest thing we can do to create a substantial increase in our ability to focus.
When we reduce the number of things you are mentally juggling, the cognitive cost is vastly reduced. Just changing from three objects to two objects frees up a tremendous amount of overhead. The best, however, is to reduce the number of things we are doing or thinking about to one at a time. This lowers the juggling overhead to zero, and allows us to focus 100 percent of our brainpower on one topic.
Develop a habit of doing one thing at a time.
Distractions have become the norm in this tech-driven world today. But it’s more of a habit we have got used to. The challenge now, to break this habit is to make a new habit. Which should be – doing just one thing at a time. Every time we catch ourselves doing too many things at one time, let’s consciously return to just that one essential. The thing that matters. Practise this at every opportunity, at work, at home, while driving the car, all day long. Gently remind ourselves, “One thing at a time.”
We can take a quick check on how strong our habit for distraction has become. Shut everything off and do something simple with no distractions. The first thing that happens, often, is that the mind begins to complain “This is boring. There’s something on TV. Why can’t I just play some music? What’s wrong with eating while studying?” And so on. We will experience anything from mild discomfort to an almost irresistible compulsion to bring back the distractions.
That’s the place to start. To attempt some discipline about doing one thing at a time while trying to concentrate. Concentrating without distractions will eventually turn out to be incredibly pleasant. It will refresh and energize. Stable focus can increase our feeling of satisfaction in what you are doing.
It’s not that difficult. All it takes is a little practice.