How to kill your focus and productivity

Saleem Hadad • June 25, 2022

education productivity

I'm sure you read the title and your mind wondered if I made a mistake. Well, not really, I'm here to actually tell you how to destroy your focus and reduce productivity in a very simple way!

Simply put, all you have to do is multitask!

Over the years, the concept of multitasking/parallelism has been leaked outside the computer world into ours and we see a lot of folks (including recruiters) talk about it and how to be a "multitasker" which ironically seems to be a badge to brag about. However, there’s just one little problem with that: We can’t actually multitask.

The part of our brain that is responsible of making decisions is the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is also mentioned in the holly Quran with the Arabic word (ناصية).


Image source

The PFC -the part which distinguishes us as human from other animals- have a great power to zoom in on a specific set of information and process it, namely thinking. The PFC works in a feedback loop manner with few neurotransmitters to keep moving (mainly the Dopamine) which is responsible for giving you the required rewards to keep focusing on the task at hand, and what seems to be multitasking is actually a fast switching process between tasks which is a highly inefficient process that comes at great cost: zero focus.

While some folks claim that they can multitask, a handful of studies show that people who are interrupted (switch from task to task) take an estimated 50 percent longer to complete a task and have been found to make up to 50 percent more errors and reduces their IQs by 15 points. Source: The Leading Brain

Sometimes, you’ll be more liable to get the impression that multitasking is the source of someone's success, when in fact she’s probably successful in spite of her multitasking and would almost certainly be even more successful if she focused on just one task at a time.

And the fact that you can walk and listen to music is not actually multitasking because each set of activities uses a different group of cognitive resources of the brain.

Multitasking is the real enemy of focus. Simply, don't do it!

Tips to stay focused (when needed)

Aside from the post's title, try one or a mix of these tips to increase your focus when needed.

  • Clean your desk before starting a new task
  • Never listen to music while doing any intense mental workload.
  • For noisy environments, try to use noise-cancelling headphones
  • When you attend a meeting never use your phone or Slack. You can change Slack status and pause notifications.
  • Meditate for at least 20 mins daily. Mindfulness thickens your frontal cortex, which increases your capacity for attention and processing power.
  • Work on one task at your desk and then pick up your laptop and move to a different location before starting the next task. The subtle change in your work environment will provide a signal to the brain that you’re tackling something new.
  • If you're a regular email-checker, try to block some time in your daily calendar for emails and stick to it.
  • Have a well-defined goal before starting any new task.
  • Don't resist distractions. Get rid of them.

Resources and references:

  1. The Rise of Superman
  2. The Leading Brain
  3. What multitasking does to your brain

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