Stop multitasking

The idea of me writing about time management seems like a joke.  But then again, maybe I’m actually well-suited to the task: I need all the artificial props I can muster to keep myself on task.  Even a bad runner can win a race with a bicycle.  I’ll share a few of my tricks with you, starting with how to stop yourself from multitasking.

It can be tempting to multitask. Student listening to music while on the computerIt’d be nice to say that this is because we’re good at it, but those of us who feel the temptation most strongly are probably the worst at it.   That’s because the ones who end up multitasking the most are those with lower executive control and higher impulsivity, which makes them have trouble resisting a second task (Sanbonmatsu et al. 2013).  At the same time, these people find it harder to actually do what multitasking requires: rapid switching between tasks (Banich 2009).  The students you see in the library with one window open to a music video and another open to a journal article might think they’re being efficient, but they’re probably the ones who will suffer the most from what they’re doing.

There are many ways to get sucked into multitasking, but two of the biggest time sinks must be notifications from various applications and the ever-present web, ready to answer every question that pops into your mind.   Notifications are easy enough to take care of: switch them off while you’re working.  The web is a little trickier, as it’s very easy to convince yourself that you need to know the answer to some question right now.  What I try to do is keep a text file open for notes when I work.  If I get the urge to switch to my browser to look something up, I type whatever my question is into the text file instead and only allow myself to look it up during a break.

If you still find yourself looking at cat photos when you should be studying, consider editing your computer’s settings to blacklist sites that are particular time-wasters or set up periods of time without Internet access at all.  You can automate this through various prepackaged software solutions (there are many) or by editing host files and scripting automated processes if you know how.  I’ve heard of some people going as far as removing the network cards from their laptops to force themselves to focus.

TL;DR Block notifications and web sites when you work.  If you want to look something up, pop your question into a to-do list and look it up during a study break.  If you’re particularly distractible, desperate measures may be required.