Does your morning routine include checking emails, browsing Facebook, downing coffee, heading to the tram or train while googling one last bit of information, checking notifications, more coffee and then going through your work email? The relentlessness of the demand upon your attention and the constant switching between these tasks, is almost certainly making you very tired.
When we multitask we don’t do more than one activity at a time, rather we switch from one to the other. This switching is the energy burner for the brain and uses up oxygenated glucose, running down the very fuel that is needed to focus on a task.
This switching is exhausting.
“That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing,” says Daniel Levitin, Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience at McGill University.
“People eat more, they take more caffeine. Often what you really need in that moment isn’t caffeine, but just a break. If you aren’t taking regular breaks every couple of hours, your brain won’t benefit from that extra cup of coffee.”
Studies have found that people who take 15-minute breaks every couple of hours end up being more productive, says Levitin.
Even a briefer break might just be an opportunity to become present.
To look at the environment one is in at the time and appreciate it through all the senses or focus for a few moments on the breath. But surfing Facebook is not one of them,” Levitin says. Social networks just produce more fractured attention, as you flit from one thing to the next.
Some tasks are not equally draining
Hal Pashler, Psychology Professor at UC San Diego, points out that not all attempts at multitasking are equally draining. If you’re doing something on autopilot, such as the laundry, then it makes perfect sense to read a book at the same time. But attempting to do two challenging tasks at once will lead to a drain in productivity. “You can’t do two demanding, even simple tasks, in parallel,” he adds.
What can we do?
Solutions to these energy draining tasks include scheduling inbox checking to specific times…say 1st thing in the morning and again at midday. Or set aside a 15 minute time-slot in the afternoon for Facebook or twitter.
Schedule mindfulness events into the work day using technology to remind you if necessary and above all ….can you make meditation a daily habit of mind?
From the many insightful quotes of a remarkable Dutch lawyer who perished in Auschwitz in 1943.
Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. Etty Hillesum