Learn To Single-Task Again

tolkein-bread-quoteIn 2010, I crashed and burned mentally. The official diagnosis involved adrenal fatigue, and many factors led to my state of exhaustion.

One of the biggest involved having too many commitments and going in too many directions. A constantly-divided focus led to a state of overwhelm and overload.

To recover and heal, I gave up a lot of poor habits and replaced them with healthier ones. That’s the only way to really heal from adrenal fatigue.

One area needing a major overhaul involved my belief in multitasking as an operating system. The Toxic Impact of Multitasking needed eliminated. Its replacement? Learning to single-task again.

The Brain’s Desire

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Our brains want to think deeply and creatively. As any multi-tasker knows, neither is possible with any consistency when your brain tries to focus on a multitude of different tasks at the same time. Instead, we end up reacting to life and living only a surface-level existence.

But, as Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., tells Forbes, with concerted effort…

Anyone can leave the “chaotic addiction of multitasking behind” and see “immediate and immense” benefits as well as an increase in creativity, energy and focus.

I’m living proof of this truth.

Single Tasking Habits

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In addition to recommending adequate rest and exercise, Chapman gives three steps to reestablish single-tasking as a habit.

  1. Give your brain down time. Build in breaks throughout your day, and be sure to take at least a yearly extended break (called a vacation in case it’s been so long you forgot). Like a muscle, our brains need time to rest and recuperate. Ever feel like you make poorer decisions as the day goes on? We must choose to combat Decision Fatigue if we have any hope of not falling prey to its talons of dumb… bad… stupid… decisions.
  2. Focus deeply & eliminate distractions. Just like a person can’t go from couch to 5k instantly, deep focus needs worked up to as well. I certainly recognize that distractions find us all too easily. But with practice, we can develop the ability to focus deeply and attract fewer distractions. The more you reduce multitasking, the more you’ll excel at focusing.
  3. Make a to-do list. A to-do list kept a crash and burn at bay for many years and keeps me from regressing more often still today. Not only a tool to promote focus, a to-do list is also a terrific way to track progress. Remember too that you’ll get better at making and using to-do lists as you perfect what works best for you.

Commit to Change

Make a choice to break your multitasking addiction and instead to work toward a singe-tasking life. Be stubbornly determined to do so. Once the benefits begin, your belief in what Chapman claims and what my own experiences show, will increase.

As with any change, commit to it to make it work. Alter daily habits and admit that the way you’re working now isn’t the best option and that maybe you can trust the example of those who have gone before you on this journey.

The Toxic Impact of Multitasking

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My Multitasking Mistake

On a recent work task, I completed what I thought fell precisely in line with my directives. Instead, what I thought I needed to do was completely wrong. Not even close, actually. The mistake devastated me and threatened to send me into a dark, self-deprecating pit.

After the emotions wore off and I quit trying to blame someone else, I thought about my mistake and what led to it. Essentially, I performed a mental root cause analysis. I first tried to credit the error to the general excuse of miscommunication but realized that just lets everyone involved off the hook and doesn’t help much. So, in all honesty, I admitted that the cause of the mistake fell solely on myself, more specifically, on my attempt to multitask.

Instead of putting my full attention into a planning meeting, I got distracted by other tasks. The worst part? Well, there are two worst parts, actually. First, I wrote down the correct task needing completed. I just didn’t look at my notes because I failed to even remember I took them. Second, I thought this type of mistake existed only as a habit broken long ago. Clearly not.

The mistake serves as a reminder about the importance of maintaining focus, which impacts reality in significant ways.

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Focus Determines Reality

Not only does what you focus on determine the direction you take, but how many tasks you focus on does too. Focusing on multiple tasks at once divides and weakens your attention and productivity. It diminishes the quality of your efforts and slows overall progress.

Multitasking — originally a computer term — is technically impossible for humans. Our brains actually task flip, but it happens so quickly we can’t tell the difference. Computers can process several tasks at once. Humans cannot. Instead, as Jon Hamilton on NPR Morning Addition explains:

“Even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain if we try to do them all at once.”

“We frequently overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks.”

I thought I’d beaten this bad habit of multitasking that contributed to my overwhelm and overload so many years ago and created the mediocre quality that eventually crept into every area of my life. And while it’s not fully returned, this backslide served to remind me of habits I need to refresh and reestablish if I am to maintain a right focus that in turn establishes the reality I desire for my life.

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The Mental Impact of Multitasking

In Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., calls multitasking toxic because it drains the brain, zaps cognitive resources and promotes early mental decline. Multitasking also decreases sharpness and increases cortisol, which can damage the memory center of the brain.

And those are just the long-term consequences. In the short term, multitasking overloads the brain, makes you less efficient, keeps thoughts at surface level and causes mistakes to occur more frequently.

Honestly, before experiencing the difference between a life filled with multitasking and one more oriented toward single-tasking, I did not buy into what Chapman asserts. Now, I realize the truth in how multitasking consumes a person’s mental resources to the point of almost complete ineffectiveness.

What toxic evidence of multitasking do you see in your life?

Next week we’ll explore the benefits of single-tasking and look at some basic habits to help get there.

Tinsel – Not Just for Decoration!

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One of my boys’ favorite Christmas movies is “The Santa Clause” starring Tim Allen. Toward the end of the movie, some of the elves help Santa escape from jail using tinsel to cut the hinges off the cell door, and one of them says,

“Tinsel. Not just for decoration.”

My boys love this part of the movie. In fact, we quote it often this time of year mainly because of the overwhelming presence of tinsel in our Christmas tree decorating.

When I was growing up, my family always put tinsel on our tree as the final touch. When I got married, my husband protested against the tinsel because it got everywhere. Though I couldn’t argue with him, I also just couldn’t part with the tinsel.

There are three reasons I like tinsel on my Christmas tree:

  1. My tree looks naked without tinsel. All I see is green when there’s no tinsel on the tree. Plus, it just doesn’t look like the tree I had growing up as a child. Now, I don’t keep all of my childhood traditions alive, but this one produces such good memories that Christmas seems incomplete without it. To my husband’s credit, he never outright forbids tinsel use because he knows it brings back positive childhood memories of Christmas for me.
  2. Tinsel provides a year-round reminder of Christmas. My husband finds tinsel annoying not just because it gets everywhere, but also because we still find remnants of it in August. For me, this is just another way that Christmas joy can be experienced year-round. No, I’m not talking about the pleasure I receive by my husband getting annoyed when he finds tinsel in the vacuum in August (okay, maybe a little), but mainly that with every piece of tinsel we find in the summer, we think — and even reminisce — about the joy of the Christmas holiday again even if just for a moment.
  3. Tinsel hides ornaments I dislike. This is turning into a post on how I like to annoy my husband with tinsel (Oops!). Well, he does have this one ornament he insists on placing front and center on our tree, and I can’t stand the thing (Sorry Dallas Cowboy fans!). So, I use tinsel to hide the ornament, and he of course moves the tinsel every time I put it there. Again, just creating fun Christmas memories with my hubby! It’s all good-natured fun… really, I promise.

The point? There are two, actually. First, have fun and enjoy Christmas memories not just during the Christmas season but year round too. Second, don’t miss out on those small opportunities to create those memories. After all, it’s usually the small events and moments that add up and combine to make a significant impact on your life.

DISCUSSION: What fun Christmas traditions help bond your family and provide small opportunities that add up to make a difference year round?

How to… Enjoy Family Vacation & Come Back Closer Than Ever

As soon, and often before, our family vacations are over, our boys usually are planning our next vacation. Even at 11 and 13, they prefer being with their parents on vacation than at home with their friends. Not sure if that’s normal or not, but I love it. We work very hard as a family to make sure our times away strengthen and bond us, and the following tips are the building blocks of how we structure our vacations for this purpose. These points also help make vacations relaxing, which for me, needs to happen in order for the bonding to happen too.

  1. Know everyone’s priority. Depending on how long you will be on vacation, have each person prioritize activities. Then, do your best to make sure at least one of the tope items on every person’s list gets done. (Keep in mind that having several options is important.) We often spend time prior to leaving on vacation researching options while we plan our vacation as well as most of the first day of vacation deciding activities.
  2. Look at free/ low cost options. We love to visit state parks, national monuments and other free/low cost activities when on vacation. This gets us outside more and allows us to learn about the area we are visiting. On our last vacation, we spent a day hiking in a state park, visiting the fish hatchery and touring the DNR facility. These were all free activities and a lot of fun. Don’t forget to check out the local coupons for tourists too to help keep costs down.
  3. Immerse in local culture. We enjoy reading about the culture of our destination and then visiting some of the places we read about. We learn a lot about history and have fun quizzing each other on it. Local culture activities not only are usually the least expensive but are also often free.
  4. Have a flexible budget. My husband sets a budget for us and then monitors it as we plan activities. Utilizing the coupons that most destinations offer for tourists helps a lot in sticking to our budget. We also can enjoy activities without feeling guilty and wondering how we’ll pay for the vacation after it’s over.
  5. Schedule down time. My ideal vacation involves lots of reading and coffee time. Down time for reading and relaxing is my top priority on vacation, and my family knows this. They’ve also come to enjoy these times for themselves as well. We schedule plenty of time to rest, so the times spent out and about can be more enjoyable (i.e. no sore feet for me). We take movies to watch and games to play as a family for our down time, which usually makes up half of our vacation time.
  6. Avoid time. While I don’t wear a watch as a general rule, my husband also ditches his on vacation. Our oldest son enjoys being our “time keeper,” so we always know we can ask him if needed. Most of the time, though, we avoid worrying about the time. Having a week where time doesn’t matter is very refreshing. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.
  7. Consider a kitchen. We stay in a time-share condominium on most vacations. Having a kitchen is a huge money saver, and it helps avoid unwanted weight gain that often comes with vacation. Many hotels have rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes, and they are well worth the extra money.

I know I don’t have all the answers when it comes to vacations, and know everyone’s situation is unique. But, I do know that what I have suggested here as well as in the rest of the series has made family vacations into great bonding times as well as low stress times for my family. All I can do is offer what works for me, and I pray that it stimulates you to explore what works for you to have vacations that draws you closer together as a family. Being deliberate about the structure of your vacation really will you to grow closer together as a family and to truly relax at the same time.

DISCUSSION: What are your suggestions for enjoying vacation and growing closer as a family?

Resources:

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