Thumbs Up: Juggling Tricks Belong in the Circus
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The media tells us that it is hip and cool to multitask—manage a thousand things and do it all!  Stay focused on your work, your family and friends, while juggling all the information rich technology.  Texts, e-mails, Twitter, FaceBook, Smartphone, iPad, YouTube, Netflix—the list is endless—and so is the toll it is taking on your brain.  Recent research studies show that multitasking is literally killing your brain and the quality of your home/work life.  

Did you know that multitasking while doing your work lowers your IQ as much as skipping a night of sleep or taking a mind-altering drug (prescription or otherwise)?

Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time and bombarding them with information only slows them down.  MIT neuroscientist Miller notes that our brains are “not wired to multitask well.  When people think they are multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.  And every time they do, there is a mental cost—lower life/work quality and efficiency.  And—it can lead to ‘Neural Addiction’: completing tiny tasks (sending an e-mail, answering a text message or posting a tweet) sends a feel good reward hormone-dopamine-giving us instant gratification.  Soon we are hooked on checking texts and twitter in record time, feeling like we have accomplished a ton when - in fact - we have done little requiring any critical thinking at all.

Multitasking makes it more difficult to organize thoughts and filter out irrelevant information, reducing the efficiency and quality of our judgments and our work.  It also increases production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Having our brain constantly shift gears pumps up stress and tires us out, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted (even when the work day has barely begun).  

Your inbox is the biggest source of the multitasking challenge, Studies show that we spend 28% of a workweek checking email, and even knowledge of an unread email can reduce your IQ by 10-15 points! While the constant thrill of a new bolded email in our inbox keeps us ever-distracted, texting is even more problematic.  It demands even more immediacy than email, finding us checking it more frequently as a result. We have a real problem!

WHAT TO DO??? Protect yourself from the multitasking mental massacre by establishing an e-mail checking schedule. Commit yourself to checking emails only three times a day, (when you get into work in the morning, at lunch time, and before leaving work at the end of the day). Turn off texting notifications and choose specific times to check your phone as well.  And follow these three steps to end the tech-stress:

1. Single Task- settle in and put the distractive devices aside and focus on one thing.  Do it well and efficiently and your worry, stress and error rate will drop dramatically.  You will get more done with less—well!

2. Find your Minimum Effective Dose- (MED) in pharmacy it’s the lowest dose that gets the desired health and well-being.  Look for MED in every aspect of your life; work, sleep, meditation, e-mailing, texting, exercise, date night, homework, volunteering, etc.

3. Stare into Space and Breathe- Cultivate stillness and downtime.  Instead of filling every moment with a Twitter feed, look out into space and let your mind rest, your imagination soar, your thoughts take on their own life…. your life!  What could be easier than practicing this one?  

Want to know more—check this out:

Be Well,

JoEllen Koerner PhD, FAAN