One of the buzzwords of the hour is “mindfulness” – being focused and fully present in the here and now. Employers such as Google and General Mills offer classes on it, as do several prominent business schools. Proponents argue that substituting mindfulness for multitasking reduces stress and increases productivity.
The barrage of information and demands from digital and non-digital resources is endless. It’s easy to see the relationship to safety and accidents; a worker who trips and falls while talking on a cell phone can be a costly injury.
Neurologist Dr. Romie Mushtaq says the physiological benefits of clearing away distractions and living in the moment have been documented in many scientific and medical studies. Mindfulness enhances the brain’s efficiency, creativity and sharpness, whereas multitasking depresses the brain’s memory and analytical functions and reduces blood flow to the part of the right temporal lobe, which contributes to creative thinking.
She offers these tips for practicing mindfulness in a multitasking world:
Focus on a single task for an allotted amount of time. You might say, “For 15 minutes, I’m going to read through my emails, and then for one hour, I’m going to make my phone calls.” If the job comes with constant interruptions that demand your attention, take several deep breaths and then prioritize them. Resist the urge to answer the phone every time it rings (unless it’s your boss).
When you get “stuck” in a task, change your physical environment to stimulate your senses. Sometimes we bounce from one task to another because we just don’t have the words to begin writing that strategic plan, or we’re staring at a problem and have no ideas for solutions. “That’s the time to get up, take a walk outside and look at the flowers and the birds – change what you’re seeing,” Mushtaq says. “Or turn on some relaxing music that makes you feel happy.” Offering your senses pleasant and different stimulation rewires your brain for relaxation, and reduces the effects of stress hormones, which helps to unfreeze your creativity center.
Delegate! We often have little control over the external stresses in our lives, particularly on the job. How can you not multitask when five people want five different things from you at the same time? If you can assign a task to somebody else who’s capable of handling it, do so. This will not only allow you to focus on the tasks that most need your attention, it will reduce your stress, she says. “And who knows? The colleague you’re asking for help may want to feel appreciated and part of your team!”
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