Multitasking Taken to Task: Maintaining Focus in a Tab-Filled World

Multitasking Taken to Task: Maintaining Focus in a Tab-Filled World

How long until you stop reading this blog post? Are you maintaining focus?

Hopefully not because you’re bored by it, of course—rather, because as a remote worker, you let yourself get pulled away. Will it be a calendar alert, a ring tone, or a new email vibration that distracts you?

Perhaps it’ll be the lure of a dozen other browser tabs you have open; the visual reminder of so many to-do items dangling in front of you as you move from place to place.

While career multitaskers may pride themselves on productivity, rest assured that whatever quantity or variety of things they seem to be accomplishing simultaneously come at a steep cost.

Multiple Problems with Multitasking

How bad can it really be to multitask while working remotely? When you do more than one thing at a time, the results are far less than ideal. Specifically, everything you do suffers. We’re simply not neurologically wired to produce great work when we work on more than one cognitive task at once.

And so the idea of maintaining focus inspired this post. It’s something that I (along with many other remote workers) wrestle with on a day-to-day basis. The temptations are great: toss in some laundry, surf the web, perhaps head down a social media rabbit hole, or dig into ProductHunt. (Hey, it’s all in the name of research, right?)

In 2013, The New York Times asked Carnegie Mellon researchers to design an experiment that would measure brain power lost from switching tasks. They found that the distraction of an interruption combined with the brain drain of anticipating an interruption caused a 20-percent decrease in performance. There’s hope, however: the researchers observed that study participants were able to adapt somewhat in the second round.

That’s a good thing, because aside from subpar output, there’s evidence that shows a 10-point decline in IQ when people are multitasking. On average, people also lose more than 23 minutes when they shift back to an initial task. Ouch!

With more distractions than ever, the battle for our full attention has begun, especially for remote workers who rely on technology to do their jobs.

Here’s a five-step approach for maintaining focus and boosting your efficiency.

Step 1. Set a deadline and a timer.

You have 90 minutes for this task? Borrowing from

the Pomodoro Technique, break it down into three 30-minute intervals. Make sure the clock is ticking. (You can do this using an app on your phone, which should be set to airplane mode to avoid notifications.)

Step 2. Do all relevant research prior to starting a task.

Save articles as pdfs, which will allow you to search without surfing. Include links to be embedded and any other materials that you may need to complete this task.

Step 3. Work like it’s 1969.

That’s right—no Internet. You may feel that it belongs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but in reality, it’s not helping you. So for the first 25 minutes, simply focus on your task. Then break. Then go back to maintaining focus.

Step 4. Stop when the timer rings.

Take a quick break, no matter if you’re right in the middle of something. Stretch, grab a glass of water, go for a quick walk around the block, and congratulate yourself on a focused “sprint.”

Step 5. Get back on board.

After five minutes, it’s time to hustle. Set yourself up for another 25 minutes of glorious productivity.

After trying the above steps, you’ll find that you not only produce higher quality work, but you’re actually able to get things done faster. More focused time equals more time available. Go ahead and reward yourself with another round of “high intensity” focused work, or a half-hour of the web’s best cat videos. Okay, maybe 15 minutes. Either way, you’ve earned it.

Readers, are you multitasking while working remotely? Do you find your work suffers? Tell us in the comments section below!

By Kristi DePaul | Categories: Work Remotely

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