With over 300 billion emails sent around the world every day, along with 5000 new books, and Snapchat bringing out new filters quicker than you can say ‘check this one out!’, we are currently sitting in the middle of a crisis of attention.
Now more than ever there are so many things vying for our attention in any given moment. So why is it that in the workplace ‘Sally’ produces outstanding results whilst working across ten different projects, and ‘Tim’ struggles to keep up on anything more than two tasks?
Back in the 1980s we were sold the belief that multitasking was the answer —the ability to do not just one thing but five things at once. This may have been a great idea for workplaces, but it was a terrible idea for our brains.
Research is now finding that our brain is incapable of multitasking. Instead of attending to multiple tasks, our brains have been shown on MRI scans to be rapidly switching between two tasks. In this rapid attention splitting, our brains get fatigued and there is a lag in reorientation when we come back to a task, ultimately taking a toll on our productivity – known as ‘switch cost’.
If you’ve ever had a busy day at work, felt completely exhausted but still feel like you didn’t really get anything done, then you would have experienced the impact of this ‘switch cost’.
How then do we manage competing priorities that are all grabbing for our attention at once?
When everything is important nothing is important. Take the time to pause and get clear on what’s priority. Ask yourself, “if there was only ONE THING I got done today for me to feel like today was a success what would that be?”
Delegate or eliminate ruthlessly
Be ruthless with your to-do list. Just because you’ve always done it a certain way doesn’t mean that it can’t be done differently. What could you delegate to others or what tasks can be eliminated altogether?
Finish what’s in front of you
Resist the urge to quickly check your emails, or grab a cup of tea. When you notice your attention get pulled elsewhere bring it back to the task and finish what’s in front of you, even if it means letting others know you’re currently not available.
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