There’s a certain irony in the fact that this article about productivity took over a week to write.
This is because, in between interviewing, writing, stopping, starting, lunching and revising, distractions happened, plans were abandoned, new projects were started.
And isn’t that always the way?
However there’s one single thing we could all be doing that would boost our productivity rates at home, work or study, and like most things, it’s something we all know we should be doing.
Associate Professor at The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, Paul E. Dux, told Mamamia that multi-tasking is essentially the enemy to productivity.
“Everyone knows that things like task-switching are potential distractions are really problematic right?” he said.
“Despite the fact that we have over a hundred billion neurons and trillions of connections, we’re actually really bad at doing two things at once.”
Can people actually multi-task?
The short answer is no. Dux says that there’s very clear evidence that multi-tasking can be very detrimental to performance.
This applies to simple, everyday tasks too.
“Even tasks that we’re highly practiced like someone who thinks they can talk on a cellphone while driving,” he says. In fact, he equates it to driving with a blood alcohol level of .08, which is over the legal blood alcohol concentration level of .05.
“It’s not the fact that you’re holding it hands free, it’s also the distraction element.
“That’s why you’re four times more likely to have a crash when talking on your cell phone while driving.
“We talk a lot and we drive a lot but it’s still a very distracting practice to do, and there’s lots of instances where doing that is bad,” he says.
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Is it true that we’re just poorer at staying focused now?
We live in a busy, busy world, with multiple things vying for our attention at any given time. Even more so if you add a small child unhealthy Instagram dependence into the mix.
However, is it true that with the influx of smart phone addictions, social media and the social pressure to do everything at the same time we’re losing the skill to focus?
While that’s an area that research hasn’t reached a conclusive answer on, there are definitely more distractions now, which has affected the amount we multi-task.
“It’s really staggering the amount (of distraction) that’s increased in the last decade,” explains Dux, referring to our now-ingrained habit of watching television while texting, or scrolling through social media.
“Research is being done that shows the extent of multi-tasking in every day life, and to what extent that can affect your cognitive processing ability.”
Children could be particularly at risk to any adverse affects says Dux, as they’re starting earlier in their lives, when “their brains are more plastic and more malleable.”
How can we increase our focus and productivity at work?
First of all, mindfulness exercises could present a solution and there’s increasing attention given to how we can use basic techniques to enhance our attention.
Dux even connects impaired attention to clinical disorders (like depression and anxiety), chronic pain and mental illnesses.
But on a day-to-day basis, when it comes to increased productivity at our desks, the solution is bitterly sweet and obvious.
“These tips aren’t rocket-science, but they do work,” assures Dux.
In short, he says the most important thing is to limit distractions – reduce the number of tabs open, turn the iPhone off and think about a specific time where you respond to emails, or workplace messaging systems.
While it’s something we’ve been told countless times before, as Dux says, it’s been a tried and true technique ever since Henry Ford was making the car back in 1913.
“He was the one that invented the moving assembly line, where you just stand in one spot and you make bumpers, and that moving assembly line is still used today.
“It limits distractions and task switching because those are the things lead to impairment,” he says.
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