by Taylor Tomita
The human brain is not built for multitasking, and the more stuff you have pressing your mind for attention, the hotter your wiring is going to get, leading to underperformance and eventual burnout.
So why do we keep adding to the tasks in need of brain power?
For many reasons. Some tasks are unavoidable. Some are more attractive to work on and think about than others and there’s an ego element, as well: You probably think you’re the one person who can multitask just fine, despite the science, right? That’s what everyone thinks.
But most of all, we tend to slip into bad habits without even noticing it. You casually tell yourself, ‘things will be quieter tomorrow or the next week or next quarter.’ Meanwhile, your brain – and body – edge closer to burnout.
You can avoid patterns like these by harnessing your work style from the beginning. To start, especially in a management position, do an audit of your regular tasks and figure out which ones you can delegate. Keep hold of the jobs you love, excel at, or which can only be done by you. But for everything else, it’s time to start trusting your colleagues and employees.
You also need to get better at scheduling (everybody does, right?).
Try shortening your deadlines. It may sound more stressful, but setting yourself shorter deadlines can help actually get stuff done faster, because tasks tend to expand to fill up longer sessions.
It’s a delicate balance not to create deadlines that are too short and just add further stress. But if you tweak as you go along you should find you can knock a few hours off your work week. It’s also worth using an app such as Toggl to check just how much time you are actually spending on each task, as we tend to overestimate the hours we’ve worked by 5-10 percent.
But what about if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now?
You can’t go back in time to fix your schedule. This guide to arresting that overwhelmed feeling, suggests some good ideas on how to snap out of it. For example, exercise is a great way to get you out of your head. A study from the University of Georgia suggests that low-intensity exercise – enough to get your blood pumping, not enough to tire you – can help you overcome the exhaustion of being overwhelmed at work. Stretching or going for a walk are good ways to achieve just this.
Similarly, mindfulness techniques can help focus your mind and block out the noise for a few minutes. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is straightforward and easy to remember: Stop work, breathe deeply, and name
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Too hippy-dippy for you? Try tidying your desk. It is a useful and wholly non-hippy way to reconnect with the world outside your head.
Multitasking and paying attention don’t go hand in hand. The brain naturally focuses on concepts one at a time. This is the same reason so many people crash cars while talking on their cell phones.
To avoid experiencing that car crash at work, it’s time to take control of your schedule, your task list, and your mind.