Media multitasking is increasingly common in this day and age. If all this flow of information makes it hard for you to pay attention and stay focused, you are not alone. According to new research by EyalOphir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner at Stanford University, people who multitask suffer from a weaker self-control ability. The following excerpt is from the Scientific American article "Portrait of a Multitasking Mind" by Naomi Kenner and Russell Poldrack:
The researchers asked hundreds of college students fill out a survey on their use of 12 different types of media. Students reported not only the number of hours per week that they used each type of media, but also rated how often they used each type of media simultaneously with each other type of media. The researchers created a score for each person that reflected how much their lifestyle incorporated media-multitasking.
They then recruited people who had scores that were extremely high or low and asked them perform a series of tests designed to measure the ability to control one's attention, one's responses, and the contents of one's memory. They found that the high- and low- media-multitasking groups were equally able to control their responses, but that the heavy media-multitasking group had difficulties, compared to the low media-multitasking group, when asked to ignore information that was in the environment or in their recent memory. They also had greater trouble relative to their counterparts when asked to switch rapidly between two different tasks. This last finding was surprising, because psychologists know that multitasking involves switching rapidly between tasks rather than actually performing multiple tasks simultaneously.
On the positive side, heavy media multitaskers may be better at reactive control when they are quick to respond to the relevant cues from the external world. This ability can be useful in the environments where things change fast. It also helps to build habits more easily in response to common situations.
Computer screen pop-ups may slow down your work more than you think, according to new research, reported in Science Daily. While the distraction may last only for a moment, it takes more time to get back to the original task. As a result, people lose their cognitive focus and take longer than normal to complete the next step in the task they are working on. Dr. Helen Hodgetts at Cardiff University explains,
"Our findings suggest that even seemingly brief and inconsequential on-screen pop-up messages might be impacting upon our efficiency, particularly given their frequency over the working day..."
The study also reveals that having a warning for an upcoming interruption can reduce the time we lose trying to get back to the task:
A warning sound was found to be most effective because it allows us to consolidate where we are in the current task before transferring our attention to the interruption. In contrast, a flashing warning signal on the computer screen can be just as disruptive as the interruption itself.
Here are some tips from the researchers on how to deal with online distractions:
The researchers suggest that e-mail alerts and similar pop-up messages should be as small and discrete as possible and should not obscure the original activity. Better still, any visual alert should disappear after a few seconds if not responded to, so that we can be aware that there is incoming information without having to interrupt our current task.
The researchers also point out obvious practical steps that computer users can take to minimize unscheduled pop-up notifications, particularly whilst engaging in tasks that require a lot of planning or concentration:
Instant-messenger systems should be turned off or at least set to 'busy' so that colleagues are aware that unimportant interruptions are not welcome; and e-mail alerts could be turned off or only enabled for messages that the sender tags specifically as high priority.
It's this time of the year again when we look at what we have accomplished so far and start planning for the upcoming year. The unfortunate side effect of this time is that we often put too much pressure on ourselves, which is a set-up for future frustration and procrastination.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed and exhausted by all the things you need to do? And when you feel overwhelmed, do you sometimes complain, procrastinate and not take any action at all? And all this time, you are building resistance. You are not alone. Many people can relate to this experience. Resisting and complaining sap your energy. Whenever you feel the build-up of resistance, you want to stop and think about how you can move from resistance to acceptance. Stewing is worth than doing.
What causes procrastination
There may be several causes of your procrastination. Read the following common reasons why people procrastinate and check what applies to you:
Poor time management habits;
Feeling of overwhelm;
Resistance to the task itself or other people’s expectations;
Lack of focus, purpose, or commitment;
Lack of confidence;
Fear of failure;
Fear of success.
So, how do you move from the state of being "stuck" and resistant to acceptance and action? There is a difference between purposeful procrastination and procrastination with purpose. The former is avoidance of any action, while the latter is a transition into action. It's a phase of mental preparation. The following set of activities will help you start moving in a powerful new direction.
Visioning and mental rehearsal
Use procrastination to envision the outcome, to brainstorm and mentally "rehearse" the project. Give yourself permission to come up with bad ideas and don't filter anything. Your unrestrained imagination may lead you to innovative solutions. You can also use this time to create a mind map of your project. Time constraints may be a good thing as they can drive creative. Those of you with a perfectionist streak may find it therapeutic to use your procrastination time to produce something fast without worrying too much about quality. Remember, it's just a rehearsal. That way, you will have something to build on and improve later.
Use procrastination to organize your thoughts and assess your progress objectively. Mentally run down the list of burning questions you must address. Here are a few favorites to get you started:
What needs to be done?
Why would it be desirable to do those things?
What have you already accomplished that will help you move forward with this project?
What do you need to know to complete this project?
What kinds of resources and help will you need when you start working on the project?
What's the next action step?
Write out your answers. Writing brings clarity, calmness and objectivity to the mind. Notice any shifts in your mental and emotional states once you have done the exercise.
SMART goal setting
Use procrastination to strategize and create a plan. Define objectives, deadlines, and milestones for your project. It's time to set SMART goals:
Realistic (but don't be afraid to stretch yourself)
Try a three-tier structure for your goals: the theme, the goals to support your theme, and the steps to accomplish your goals.
Your theme can be the big reason behind the project, the main aspect of it, or the crucial learning and development point. The theme helps to unify the parts of the project, provide additional motivation and momentum to move forward.
Break your project into well-defined goals that will serve as the milestones for your work. When deciding upon goals,
Make them big enough to really stretch your comfort zone. We often underestimate what we can achieve.
Picture the benefits you gain from completing your goals. Visualize the outcomes. How would you know you have accomplished your objective? How will it feel to succeed? Capture your best reasons on paper and return to them when you need extra motivation.
Identify the cost of your goals. Each goal comes with a price tag. What do you have to give up for the opportunity to achieve your goals? Identify those trade-offs and decide if you are truly willing to pay the price.
Prioritize and eliminate inconsistent goals. The goals we set often compete for our time, effort, and resources. It's important to know the priority of your goals and check for conflicting objectives. You may be as passionate about visiting Italy as you are about visiting Brazil, but you can't be in two places at the same time. You must choose.
Set a deadline for each of your goals.
Schedule regular intervals to revisit your goals and track your progress.
Finally, divide your goals into smaller tasks or steps, giving each task a target date for completion as well. These steps will give you a clear picture of what you should be working on at any given time.
Use procrastination to motivate yourself for success. Take a walk in the park, meditate, put on your favorite CD – do whatever works for you to create a positive vision of accomplishment. Keep your eyes on the finish line. How will you feel once the project is completed? What will you do for fun to reward yourself for your great work? Think of little rewards you can give yourself when you complete each part of a longer project. Talk to people who can motivate you for action. Write down two or three positive attributes of the final product as you see it and repeat those attributes whenever you sense negative self-talk.