The antidote to multitasking is presence. Presence comes in two varieties. Both are very important to time management. The first, is what we discussed in our last blog – doing one thing at a time. The second, possibly more difficult type of presence, is thinking about what you are doing while you are doing it. Because while you are not literally doing two things at once, if you are distracted by thinking about or trying to remember something else, then your full attention is not on the task before you. And just like trying to do more than one thing at a time, trying to think about more than one thing at a time splits your attention and leads to mistakes.
Our brains are good at remembering things. But they are poor at bringing them up at the appropriate time. This is why sometimes you might awaken in the middle of the night in terror remembering something you need to do. And the strain your brain is under trying to remember all the things you need to do creates a sort of mental multitasking. As such, if you decide to do one thing at a time, you close your office door and turn off your phone and your computer, you may have a myriad of thoughts suddenly come to you. (This happens often when people take up meditation as well.)
A suggestion for mental focus is this – begin to keep track of what you have to do and what is important to you somewhere other than in your head. One idea is to write things down on a list. You may want to keep a running list by your side all the time, or maybe you will bring a pad of paper into your office when you sit down to focus on one thing so that anything that pops up in your head as urgent you can write down and not stop to do, in this way continuing on with your focused time.
In the end, things pop up in your head because you don’t have a system for how or when to do them. This is your brain trying to remember all that needs to be done and then delivering it to you anytime that you start to focus on just one thing (as in meditation or sleep). This is similar to what would happen if you tried to remember grocery items you need at the store. Your brain would keep calling them up at random times so you don’t forget. But if you keep a grocery list then you can let go and focus on other things.
Give it a try – let us know what you think.