Stop. Do not read ahead until you have checked how many tabs you have open on your browser. During a busy workday, is it not uncommon to have 20 or more tabs open. After all, multitasking helps us get more done faster, right?
Not quite. Take a moment to be brutally honest with yourself. Do you truly get more done if you have more tabs open at once? The answer is most likely no. According to David Meyer, a director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory the University of Michigan, efficiency is halved when switching between many different activities.
Counter to common belief, you can’t do two cognitively complicated tasks at once, Meyer says. When you’re on the phone and writing an email at the same time, you’re actually switching back and forth between them, since there’s only one mental and neural channel through which language flows.
“If you have a complicated task, it requires all your attention, and if you’re trying to spread your attention over multiple tasks, it’s not going to work,” Meyer says.
Meyer’s study shows that if you work in a normal office, you work an average of three minutes between each distraction. According to Meyer, the average number of tabs open at once is eight. Where do you fall?
The good news is that there is hope for those of us who have a hard time focusing our attention, in the form of self-regulation through better time management and scheduling. “If you’re disciplined enough, you can map out the usage of your time in a way that minimises your exposure to interruptions,” Meyer explains.
In order to produce high quality work in a chaotic, distraction-filled office, you need to help your brain handle all that input at once. Try keeping your to-do list visible, so you have a constant reminder of what exactly needs to get done that day and how to prioritise each task. If you need to multitask, then bundle related tasks together. The more similar they are, the easier it will be for you to move fluidly between them.
Whether you have 5, 10, 15 or 20+ tabs open, try a few of these tips to focus on one thing at a time. Let us know if you have any tips of your own in the comments.