Multi-task much?

As moms, as women, as entrepreneurs, our lives are filled with demands.

Phone calls to make, laundry to wash, to-do lists to do, walks to take, it goes on and on…

We think it’s useful to be doing 5 things at once.  Of course we can make dinner, write an article, and answer the phone all at once; doing lunges all the while.  We think we’re getting ahead, making a dent in our list, but is it really working for us, for you?

Research shows that all this multi-tasking is actually NOT the way our brains were designed to operate.  Of course, because our bodies and brains are such exceptional specimens, our brains adapt to this frantic demand- sort of.  The reality is that we are meant to focus on one thing at a time! “What??” you cry?  How can I possibly get it all done- one-thing-at-a-time??  Well, the reality is that you will be more efficient and effective if you use your focus (your mind) like a flashlight, shining it on one task at a time.  In a new book co-written by my mentor, Margaret Moore, and Harvard Neuroscientist Paul Hammerness, Organize your Mind,  Organize your Life; the details of how to best use your mind are laid out.

Part of this work is learning how to focus.  In our fast-paced, multi-tasking world, focusing is not something we have practiced much. According to an article the authors wrote for the Harvard Business Review, three key elements to developing focus are:

1) Get your mind out of ‘fight or flight’.  You’ve got to learn how to cultivate positive emotions, while managing negative ones.  If your system is always fueled by adrenaline and ‘on the lookout’ for danger, it will be very hard to focus.  Bathe your system in the neurochemicals of positive emotions, and you’ll be much more able to focus.

2) Learn how to harness your awareness. We get pulled away from our focus, often without even realizing it.  Developing the ability to notice that you have become distracted, and then to choose whether to stay with your focus, or to shift it, is critical.

3) Ritualize a shift in focus. This involves deliberately choosing to stop one thing, letting your mind release that, and then move onto the next.  Moore and Hammerness  suggest using a short walk, some stretches or deep breathing as possible ways to create a ritual shift in attention.  These things can also serve to allow your brain a chance to integrate and access important information for future use.  You open the door to new insights and learning here.

I have put these practices in place during my work-day, and  been surprised at how effective they are.  I thought multi-tasking was helping me accomplish more, but really I was spinning my wheels.

Do you multi-task?  Try these tips, and let me know how they work for you!

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