We all multitask without being aware of it. Every day, countless messages compete for our attention and time. Too often, we give in to these interruptions, which puts us in what I call ‘respond mode.’ In this state of mind, you keep responding to every message you receive. Unless you work in customer service, this harms your productivity. Messages from friends, colleagues, Facebook, Email, News apps, and countless other messages try to fight for your attention. It seems almost impossible to write an email without being interrupted by a WhatsApp message, a colleague who is asking for something, or a phone call.
When we are responding to messages throughout the day, we cannot focus on our work. Every time we are distracted it takes time and energy to switch between tasks. Most people’s days revolve around juggling multiple tasks and projects at once. The feeling that we have so many obligations— and limited time—that we feel anxious. Imagine receiving a text from your friend about another friend’s birthday gift while trying to write an important email. What do you do? Most of us leave the email to respond to our friend.
We feel obliged to respond to everything and everyone. When we return to the email, we forget the point we were trying to make in our email. The reason for this is simple: we cannot multitask. To keep our lives in check, we need to all stress and anxiety. If we want to work stress-free: we should take it one step at a time and not engage in multitasking. By using the full capacity of our mind, we can complete tasks quicker and better. First, focus on writing an email, then on responding to your friend’s birthday gift.
Switching Costs Kill Productivity
We all have days we feel unproductive or that we did not do anything. When you feel you are not productive, the chances are that it is because interruptions and multitasking drain your energy. When you juggle multiple things simultaneously, like: sending an email, texting a friend and checking your Facebook while you are in a meeting – you engage in context switching. Research done by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, showed that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. Since we are interrupted more than once, this adds up quickly and before you know it you feel like you have done nothing that day.
Clifford Nass, a sociologist from Stanford University, has researched the impact of multitasking and found that people who engage in multitasking are “suckers for irrelevancy.” We engage in multitasking because we are distracted by notifications, which are addictive. We cannot control ourselves – we must look at the notification to see who or what wants our attention. Every time a notification pops up on our screen, we get a rush that releases dopamine.
Dopamine is one of the body’s happy chemicals – it controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain and makes you feel joy. This joyous feeling is addictive and makes us seek out behaviors that stimulate dopamine. You can think about food, sex, drugs and the notifications you receive on your screen. While dopamine may cause a rush, it also exhausts us. That is why you still feel tired at the end of the day while you have not been productive. This is a harmful process, and we need to stop this pattern.
Multitasking Fix: Turn Off Notifications
It’s difficult to instantly change your behavior. Your smartphone is likely the biggest source of distractions. So let’s focus on your phone. If you want to be more productive, start by the following 2 productivity tips:
1. Turn off notifications on your smartphone
This will take away distractions. You can start by turning off push notification on your news apps. Then, follow with email. Finally, if you really want to eliminate distractions—turn off all notifications. Only check your phone when you want—don’t be a slave to it.
2. Delete Facebook from your smartphone
Facebook equals procrastination. I don’t have Facebook on my phone for almost a year. My brother recommended me to delete Facebook: “you waste hours on facebook,” he said. He was right. You need to trust me on this, delete it and you will instantly find out that you have less stuff to do on your phone.
These productivity tips won’t double or triple your productivity, but they sure will give you more peace of mind so you can focus on what is important: your life.