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Out of focus: The multitasking dilemma

Bart Perkins | Oct. 8, 2015
Just about everyone is doing it, but no one does it well

Most executives are very good at focusing on the task at hand while blocking other thoughts and activities. They believe this is a critical skill and expect others to be similarly focused. To encourage this behavior, some executives even assign fines to employees who answer a phone call or respond to a message during a meeting.

  • Practice mindfulness or meditation. With practice, these disciplines help increase concentration and ignore distractions. One basic exercise encourages choosing something to focus on, such as your breathing, an image or a sound. Keep your mind focused there for a set period of time, returning to the focal point whenever your mind wanders. Start with just 30 seconds and increase the focus time as you become more practiced.

Serious media multitasking is beginning to be recognized as a neural addiction. Multitasking increases production of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Increased amounts of these hormones overstimulate the brain, causing fuzzy thinking. In addition, the prefrontal cortex prefers external stimulation and rewards reading every post, Internet search or message with a burst of endogenous opioids. Essentially, this feedback loop rewards the brain for losing focus.

Encourage heavy multitaskers to reduce their consumption of electronic media. It is bad for their professional effectiveness, their career advancement and ultimately their mental health.

And though it can seem that just about everyone is multitasking, no one does it well.

OK, gotta run. Gotta check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. How’re my stocks doing? Has my daughter responded to my last text? Should “multitasker” have a hyphen? What will the weather be tomorrow? Oh, excuse me, what did you say? What layoff?


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