By now, we all know that multitasking can be a lose-lose proposition. (Talking on the phone while driving? Dumb idea. Texting while driving? Really dumb idea.) But even seemingly benign multitasking—like chatting with a friend while sending out an office email—isn’t as efficient or harmless as we might believe. A recent study published in the science journal NeuroImage revealed that when we attempt demanding tasks simultaneously, we end up doing neither as well as we should, because our brains have cognitive limits. We may think we’re doing two things at once, but our brains are actually toggling between them.
“A tremendous amount of evidence shows that the brain does better when it’s performing tasks in sequence, rather than all at once,” says Dr Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University. “There’s a huge cost to your concentration every time you switch gears. We still don’t know the long-term effects of chronic multitasking, but there’s no question we’re bad at it and it’s bad for us.”
Here are four ways you can cut the chaos and bring peace back to your life.
TRY THIS: To restore your mental balance, anytime and anywhere, yoga instructor Adam Marcus suggests doing the tree pose. Here’s how: Stand straight but relaxed, palms pressed together at your “heart centre” (the middle of your rib cage). “First, take one slow, deep breath to calm your nervous system,” he says. “Now it’s time to stabilise your body by bringing focus to all of your muscles. Start by engaging the muscles in your right foot, move up your calf and thigh, then on to your pelvis and core (pull your navel in toward your spine), then bring your shoulders back and chin up. Now raise your left foot and place the sole gently against your right ankle, calf or inner thigh. Keeping your hands at your heart centre, hold this pose for five deep, full breaths. Repeat on the other side.”
TRY THIS: American Buddhist monk Konchog Norbu recommends sitting quietly for five to 10 minutes—once in the morning and once in the evening. Concentrate on your breathing and “let the business of your mind go,” he instructs. “You should start to notice changes, like a better ability to concentrate, within a couple of weeks.”
TRY THIS: One way AJ Jacobs, best-selling author of The Guinea Pig Diaries, refocused was by describing his actions aloud. “Telling yourself, ‘I am walking down the sidewalk,’ makes you present,” he says. If you’re not bold enough to verbalise—Jacobs confesses he got some strange looks—just think about your actions. “Simply acknowledging the moment taught me how to be in the moment,” he says.
TRY THIS: Imagine that your brain is a computer: If too many windows are open at once, the whole operating system slows down, Dr Sophie Leroy, an assistant professor at the Univeristy of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management says . “So leave a trail of bread crumbs for your brain,” she suggests. Before transitioning to a new project, jot down where you’re leaving off on the old one—so you know exactly where to pick up when you get back to it. And before you jump back into it, devote a few minutes to recapping what you’ve just finished. It’s simple, but it works.