In today’s fast world, more than ever, we need to slow down and mono-task. Slowing down to encourage productivity, maintain sanity, and good health.
Many of us tend to believe that engaging in multiple tasks at once is somehow going to help us achieve our goals faster, be more successful, or feel more productive. But what we overlook as a result is the quality, performance, our health, and overall wellbeing.
When you have high demands and expectations to meet which exceed abilities, stress is bound to happen. Stress hormones increase and body’s ability to manage stress weakens as you become “burnt out”. If this stage continues for too long, chronic stress sets in and more serious illness start to take over.
The first time we experienced true multi-tasking and the effects of stress could be referred back to our student years, when managing midterms, writing papers, ‘pulling too many all-nighters’ and eating breakfast on the bus was a norm for at least 4 years of our lives. But it doesn’t stop there, we continue this rollercoaster madness in our professional lives or when we decide to start a family, eventually leading to an unhealthy routine.
The human brain cannot do more than one task at a time consciously. If you are eating a snack and working on an important project, you are actually doing one task consciously but not efficiently. As an example, lets discuss driving. If we look at the MRI of a person driving a car we would be able to see certain patterns of brain activity. Once we add another activity, such as listening to an audio book, brain activity for this specific task, driving, decreases by about 37% (1). So instead of being more efficient and alert on the road we are actually increasing the chances of unsafe driving and potential accidents.
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Another important reason multitasking should be kept to a minimum if not eliminated, is mindfulness. When we juggle multiple projects at the same time we tend to slip away from mindfulness. Mindfulness, is our human gift that makes memories last, gives us appreciation for the beautiful moments in our lives, the ability to learn and grow from mistakes, and even the searched and desired by all act of finding true love.
Mindfulness is the state of being conscious, present, or in the moment. Mindfulness is spiritual growth as we learn to accept our thoughts and emotions instead of reacting or becoming attached to them.
How to start practicing mono-tasking:
- Practice mindfulness meditation at least 3 times a week. This will help you develop attention to the things happening in the present moment. You will learn how to concentrate on the present moment, therefore, making it easier to concentrate on one task at a time. It also helps with filtering out the irrelevant thoughts and mind wondering that tends to happen. This doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you will stop wondering, think, or feel but you will be equipped to recognize and deal with these natural humanly distractions more effectively.
- Practice deep breathing. This type of breathing goes by many names such as diaphragmatic, belly, or abdominal breathing. When you inhale, the diaphragm drops down allowing for your lungs to expand as they fill up with air. On the exhalation, your diaphragm contracts back up pressing into your lungs allowing for carbon dioxide to be expelled. This type of breathing allows for gas exchange, incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide. The benefits of this type of breathing lies in the slowing down of the heart beat and decreasing blood pressure.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise helps relieve tension, stress, improves mood, and has a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and overall mental health. Regular exercise also helps balance body’s levels of stress hormones. When you exercise, you enjoy the benefits of deep breathing, detoxification, and induce a state of deep calm.
- Engage in mindful work. Work on a project that demands a lot of your time and attention, and don’t forget to take short breaks. When are you most productive? Set 4 or more hours a day to do this without distractions, that includes hiding your phone away from your work space, listening to relaxing music allowing for full concentration and mental engagement. Make sure to have some water or herbal tea by your side to stay hydrated.
- The Eisenhower Matrix. Write down everything you need to accomplish in a day. 1. Separate what is urgent and important (the “must do”), 2. not urgent but important (plan to do or schedule), 3. urgent but not important (delegate or plan), and 4. not urgent and not important (revisit or eliminate) (2).
- Eat well to nourish your cells. Your energy, mood, and mental clarity rely on clean fuel. When you consume a diet high in vegetables, protein, and fat, you are creating an internal environment for your body and mind to thrive and succeed. If your diet is the typical North American diet of coffee and donuts, you will most likely feel mentally and physically sluggish, and not your best.
- Find time for YOU. Most likely your schedule is so busy that by the end of the day all you want to do is watch “The Bachelor” or “The Walking Dead” on TV or Netflix. But setting aside some time for you is crucial. If you find yourself still thinking about work, projects, or deadlines in your off time, then you most definitely must find time to disconnect and give your brain a break. Take a relaxing bath, read a good book, do some journaling, or watch a good movie.
Make mono-tasking part of your life as in doing so you will improve the quality of your life.