Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused. I listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and television while I perform chores or other mundane activities. While I find the chatter of dialogue through my earbuds to be a great comfort, I also realize that my split attention rips me away from my surroundings.
It can be tempting to try to kill 4 birds with 1 stone, however, little interruptions are the bane of productivity (studies even claim by 40%!). I enjoy multitasking, especially when the chore du jour is boring. For myself, pairing an unfavorable activity (for example, cataloguing books at my old college library job) with a fun activity (in my case, listening to audiobooks or podcasts) is a great way to motivate myself to persevere through the unfavorable activity. I know deep down that multitasking kills efficiency, however, I question how much this theory holds when the singular task is mind numbing. For example, at my old job, cataloguing books into the computer system made me feel as if time were at a standstill. I often counted the seconds and mentally willed the minute hand to inch (nay “centimeter”) closer to the next hour. With so little stimulation, I felt as if I had physically slowed down and as if my disobedient mind impulsively sought distraction. However, when I integrated some mental stimulation in the form of my audio companions, it felt as if my eyes were more willing to train themselves on the computer screen and my fingers eager to perform the tasks that it could without the aid of my central nervous system.
I’m not trying to make an argument that multitasking is good per se, however, I think it has certain advantages for employees who do jobs that are better left to robots….anyway….When multitasking gets any more complicated than implementing rote tasks, your brain is in real trouble of missing important information. Even actions that seem helpful like taking notes during a lecture can cause you to miss key points while your brain is doing its best to form letters on paper.
While we may think we are experts at toggling between our emails and social media all while keeping Netflix playing in the background, research has demonstrated that heavy multi-taskers perform worse on attention and working memory tests. Additionally, research has shown that chronic multitaskers find it harder to tune out distractionsand are more anxious than their singularly-focused friends.
I am trying to be better at living in the moment, as I believe that total presence and engagement in an activity yields the most happiness. Focus brings clarity and clarity brings calm. Focusing on a single task can help reduce the effects of stress on the body. Focusing also (expectedly) increases productivity, as well as boosts creativity.
Today, I found myself working on a research project uninterrupted and un-distracted for 3-straight hours. It is amazing how time can fly by when your mind is engaged. It truly is beautiful when your body is suspended and your brain transcends the seconds, minutes, and hours, as if everything outside your focus has been put on hold. When I focus, I am not bothered by the pings of a smartphone or future planning. When I focus, my mind is like a car traveling through a tunnel. When I am disengaged, my brain is like a foreign driver on the Las Vegas strip twisting her neck left, right and sideways, seemingly looking in any direction beside the way in front of her.
Being engaged can make us feel more whole and more a part of our surroundings. When I engage, my brain is blissfully in the present—no preoccupations, doubts, regrets, or other intrusive negative emotions. When was the last time you felt time disappear? While I cannot predict your answer, Dear Reader, I’m sure that it was not when you were checking your email, switching between social media profiles, or distracting yourself in any other way. Just like our own happiness, engagement needs no distraction.
Whatever you choose to focus on, Dear Reader, I hope that this engagement brings you peace and happiness.