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Productivity Hacks

Avoiding Multitasking to Improve Focus at Work

Multitasking has become an epidemic in our modern workplaces. With constant pings, dings and alerts coming from our computers and phones, it can feel impossible to stay focused on one task at a time. But multitasking comes at a huge cost to our productivity and wellbeing. By avoiding multitasking and cultivating deep focus, we can get more high-quality work done in less time, with less stress. Here are some tips for avoiding multitasking and improving your ability to focus at work.

Schedule Focus Blocks

One of the best ways to avoid multitasking is to proactively schedule blocks of time for focused work. Identify 1-2 hour windows when you can focus on your most important projects without interruptions. Block off these windows on your calendar and protect them fiercely. Let your coworkers know that you are not available during these times. Turn off all notifications so that you are not tempted to switch tasks. Use tools like Focus@Will or brain.fm to help keep you in flow state. Scheduling this sacred time for important work will allow you to go deeper, get more done, and avoid the switching costs of multitasking.

Minimize Distractions

Our workplaces are filled with distractions that conspire to break our focus. Emails, Slack messages, phone calls, coworkers stopping by to chat — they all disrupt our focus. Do an audit of your typical workday and identify any unnecessary distractions. Can you turn off email notifications? Ask coworkers not to interrupt you during focus blocks? Decline nonessential meetings? Put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode? Every distraction you eliminate means more time to focus deeply on important work.

Use Supernormal and Other Tools

New AI productivity tools like Supernormal are emerging that can help you avoid multitasking. Supernormal is an AI notetaker built to optimize your workflow. It takes detailed meeting notes for you so you can focus on contributing to the meeting and engaging with your fellow meeting participants. Using Supernormal means you spend less time managing logistics like taking, polishing, and sharing meeting notes and can focus your energy on creative high-value tasks. These tools automate mundane tasks and protect your precious focus time.

Single-Task

When you sit down to work, choose just one task and work on it until completion. Avoid switching between tasks or projects. Our brains work best when focused deeply on one cognitively-demanding task at a time. Multitasking forces your brain to quickly switch contexts, resulting in more mistakes, less creativity, and slower overall output. Single-tasking allows you to channel all your mental resources towards excellence and innovation. It may feel slower at first, but ultimately you will be far more productive through sustained focus.

Take Breaks

While developing your ability to focus deeply is critical, it is equally important to take regular breaks to recharge. After 45-60 minutes of intense focus, take a quick break to rest your mind. Get up and stretch, get a drink of water, take a short walk, or do some deep breathing. This gives your prefrontal cortex a chance to rest so that you can return to work refreshed and ready to dive deep again. Avoid browsing social media or news sites during breaks, as this will strain your brain further. Smart breaks enhance your focus muscle.

Avoid Open Office Plans

If at all possible, avoid working in open office layouts. The constant noise and visual distractions make it extremely difficult to focus for any length of time. See if you can work from home 1-2 days per week, find a quiet library or coffee shop, or talk to your employer about creating some quiet work spaces. And if you absolutely must work in a distracting environment, consider noise-cancelling headphones to create a bubble of focus. While open offices may seem collaborative and energizing at first glance, they are productivity killers for cognitively-demanding work requiring deep focus.

Meditate

Building your general focus capabilities through meditation can enhance on-the-job focus as well. Commit to a daily meditation practice of 10-20 minutes, ideally first thing in the morning. Use a mindfulness app like Headspace if new to meditation. In just a few weeks, you may notice improved ability to concentrate on tasks and avoid distractions. Meditation literally strengthens your brain’s ability to focus. The benefits spill over seamlessly into your work life, allowing you to work smarter and avoid productivity killers like multitasking.

Like any skill, focus must be strengthened through regular exercise. Implementing these tips and consistently avoiding multitasking will grow your focus muscle. Initially it will require significant effort and discipline. But over time, you will find deep sustained concentration becomes easier and almost automatic. You will tap into flow states more readily. And you will multiply the quantity and quality of work you can produce. In our constantly connected world, the ability to focus deeply is a superpower. Avoiding multitasking develops this superpower.

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