We live in an era where more is better. We need to maximize our time, be able to juggle more than one thing at a time… and to top it off, we expect everything to be perfect. We put so much pressure in ourselves to be able to handle too many things at once and do our best, that when things don’t go our way we act surprised and feel defeated, as if we were wired to be able to do so. The most horrible thing is that we become stressed, unhealthy and unhappy, and somehow think we didn’t bring it upon ourselves. FYI: Life is not meant to be lived so fast!!
I’ve been asked many times how am I able to do so much at the same time. During the past fall semester I was taking 5 doctoral classes, was a teacher assistant, doing my clinical rotation in a cancer center at a hospital, working on my recently established swimwear company, working on my doctoral dissertation, driving back and forth from the south of the island to the north three times a week, while still trying to get some cardio done a few times a week and cooking most meals. I have to add that all of this was happening before and after we were hit by a category 5 hurricane called María. So yeah… everyone seemed shocked at my ability to juggle my crazy schedule, but what they didn’t know was that I: gained 15 pounds, got migraines and headaches regularly, was unable to see on one eye for 15 minutes (seems like a short period of time, but it’s the scariest thing), got muscle spasms, was unable to sleep, was constantly tired, often sad, and was hit by another car, where I hurt my left knee and constantly gives me pain. I got my achievement report the day after we finished the semester, and thankfully I had done amazing. However, the excitement faded quickly, as I realized, it wasn’t necessary to have put so much pressure on myself to do as great… I could have had all B’s and my GPA wouldn’t have dropped, given I had only 3 classes left in my doctoral degree. I continually asked myself if all the stress and symptoms had been worth it, and my answer was always the same… NO! Yes, I felt proud that my grades reflected my ridiculous efforts, but my health and happiness comes above it all. And no A’s and GPA could ever bring me back that balance I had struggled so hard to achieve the years before.
So my question is, in a world where we are constantly told we have to be able to multitask, wouldn’t we do so much better if we monotask? Multitasking might seem like a more efficient way to get things done, but it truly isn’t. Multitasking is associated with lower productivity and increased levels of stress (this impacts our memory and increases our cortisol levels – which slows down our metabolism). The adrenaline boost we get increases dopamine, which results in a temporary boost in happiness. However, the continued stimulation impacts our ability to release dopamine in non-stressful situations, which in the long-term hurts our happiness. This is exactly what I experienced last semester… and sadly, am still managing the effects of it today. On the other hand, monotasking means being mindful because we are paying full attention to the task. We are able to concentrate, prioritize and make good decisions, our productivity is better and we reduce stress; which suggests, healthier and happier selves. So, how do we become monotaskers?
- Build up your focus tolerance: time yourself, take breaks, and try to extend the amount of focus time until you reach time spans of uninterrupted focused work.
- Monitor your thoughts: redirect your thoughts if your mind starts to wander, make to-do lists, and redirect your attention after you’ve written your thoughts down.
- Capitalize on your natural rhythms: identify if you’re a morning person, an afternoon person or a night person. Knowing when you are most productive might save you time and energy. Plan and distribute your work based on this.
- Create the optimal environment: when concentration is essential, designate a space that provides little distraction. Your work space should be comfortable, but not so comfortable you become too relaxed. Work on light, temperature and distractors. Change scenery if you get bored and minimize the clutter around you.
Become a monotasker. You can still do it all, just not at the same time!