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In our last installment, I spoke of how the latest research in brain science shows that multitasking, a staple in today's businesses and homes, could be not only lowering our mental capabilities but in the long term could be very toxic to our brains.  There have even been links to early mental decline and a loss of mental sharpness.  Very disturbing thoughts.

With this post, I wanted to give some real world examples of how you can minimize your multitasking without massive amounts of effort.  It's good to know the science and evidence of what multitasking can do but what can we do to avoid it?  What follows is a collection of ideas and tricks that you can do to let your brain "rest" and not feel so burned out after being bombarded by multitasking requests.

Just Wait!

As I stated in the previous post, time chunking is a great way to stop multitasking, especially for email or social media.  One of the best ways I've seen this accomplished is by Tim Ferriss to either have an autoreply sent out saying something to the effect of, "I'll be checking my email at X times through the day and I'll get back with you then.  Thanks!"  This politely lets them know that you received their email and will get back to them at a certain time.  As Tim points out, you must have:

1. [An] ability to train others to respect these intervals
and, much more difficult,
2. [An] ability to discipline yourself to follow your own rules.

That last rule is the most difficult for a majority of us.  (Think diet!)  If done correctly, this is one very simple and effective way of "de-cluttering" your concentration space. 

As we all are aware all too well, social media can be an absolute time-suck.  A method I was exposed to by Dan Miller at his Coaching With Excellence program at his home in Nashville, TN, was through the use of virtual assistants (VA).  Sites like I Love My VA have sprung up to help small business owners and others who need (fortunately or unfortunately, you decide) to have a social media presence.  The VAs will send out tweets, Facebook postings, and other social media on your behalf but you do nothing with it except OK them.  I have done this and found that it saves me not only a lot of time but the headache of having to stop what I'm doing and do something else.  Used properly, it will not only help you focus on the task at hand and not multitask, it will help your business as well.

Put A HEPA Filter On Your Phone

Most "smart" phones today have huge filtering abilities that we can use to our advantage but most do not.  Why not try and emulate the way things were done twenty or thirty years ago and put any personal numbers on auto-voicemail and check them when you get home?  Also, set up your phone for calls coming from important sources (ie/A call you're expecting and/or is urgent) to ring directly or to go to a special inbox with a different notification ring so you will know you need to check it.  Using these filters can really help to cut down on the needless distractions you will encounter on a daily basis and help to increase your focus and overall cognitive abilities.  Who wouldn't want that?

Turn Down The Volume.  Literally.

One strategy I have used in my life is to turn off the radio in the car while driving.  After learning in the previous post that the brain has real problems focusing on driving if conversing, I decided to try some "quiet time" while driving.  It is amazingly more peaceful!  Over the past couple of weeks since implementing this, I've noticed I am not nearly as quick to anger while driving and even have more tolerance for my sons when they are acting their age.  Not only can it help be calming but it can act as the rest period for your brain, especially if you have been working hard on a project or at work.  Try it and I bet you'll be surprised.  Give it a week and see for yourself.

Another tip would be to turn off anything in the "background".  It's in the same way as the driving example above but in general life.  If you have the television, radio or streaming music on in the background, turn it off for an hour or so.  In today's society, our senses are literally bombarded with information and stimuli at nearly all times.  Even if it is for just a few minutes, try not having any type of sound device on in your home.  Do whatever you normally would and then see how you feel at the end of some set interval, be it 10 minutes or an hour.  This can be scary for some that haven't had to be with "themselves" with no stimuli for a long period of time.  Take time to see what your body and brain are saying when they don't have to process any incoming information.  It might be surprising the insights one can come up with during this introspective and contemplative period. 

Have you ever tried to lessen the distractions of everyday life?  What strategies have worked for you?  Have you seen any benefits from them?  Let me know by leaving a comment below!

As always, take one small step toward your goals everyday!

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Tags: brain, chunking, decline, degenerative, disease, early, focus, mental, multitasking, organization, More…relaxation, time

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Comment by Daniel Ledford on March 8, 2014 at 9:05am

Hey Frank--

Thanks for the comment.  I tend to remain in research and theory, as my mind loves that area.  Comments like yours (and my wife's!) pulls me back to actionable steps.  I appreciate that.

I tend to like having a concrete plan that I *have* to stick to, like Dan's.  It "forces" me to stop what I'm doing and do something else.  Not only is it good for productivity, it's good for your brain.

Great thoughts!  Good luck!

Comment by Frank Gifford on March 8, 2014 at 8:57am

Hey Daniel,

Great stuff, and especially since there are actionable steps, not just theory.  It's a good starting place.

For me, I find the multitasking trying to creep in and I have to write things down to get them out of my head (See David Allen's "Getting Things Done").  With them out of my head, I can focus on the task at hand.  Then when I'm at a good stopping point, I can see what block of time I have, or rather what the children will give me, and then look at my list to see what would be the right thing to work on next.  And any plan is better than no plan.

Check it out!

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