How Does Multitasking Impact Focus and Productivity

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When it comes to productivity, we always hear that focus is the key. While this statement is true, we must understand that in order to achieve optimum focus, we also need to know how our brain performs in terms of its cognitive abilities.  Once we recognised this, we can easily train our brain to stay focused and productive amidst many distractions. 

In their research, Cognitive Neuroscientists Kyle Mathewson and Sayeed Kizuk demonstrated that when human beings are paying attention to something, that information is processed in a continuous manner. 

“We are bombarded with so much information and stimulation that we can’t possibly process it all at once. Whether it be commuting, engaging in our work, studying for a class, or working out, our brains select the useful information and ignore the rest, so that we can focus on a single or a few items in order to make appropriate responses in the world,” says Kyle Mathewson.

However, while our brain is doing its job to help us focus in an environment full of distractions, we are also doing some activities that can kill our productivity and hamper our brain performance.

Our Limited Memory 

Researchers have found that in 1986, people received around 40 newspapers full of information on a daily basis, but in 2007, which marked the popularity of emails, digital photography and social networking sites, this has skyrocketed to 174. Though the study has been conducted a few years ago, it’s safe to say that this number is increasing as the years go by. 

Thanks to the different stages of our memory, which act as filters to help protect us from information overload, we don’t need to keep in our brain all the things we see and hear around us. 

According to Cognitive Psychology, our memory system is divided into two types: long-term memory and short-term memory. While long-term memory (permanent storage) can store almost an unlimited amount of information for extended periods of time, short-term memory, on the other hand, has a limited capacity. Because of this limitation, humans can only hold a few numbers of items in their working memory.

But what is working memory? 

Short term memory is perceived as the “thing” and refers only to the temporary, brief storage of information. Working memory is conceived as the “process”, which involves both the temporary storage and manipulation of information in the short-term memory. Thus, working memory is deemed as the active version of the short-term memory. 

The Capacity of Working Memory

According to the popular “The Magic number 7” experiment of Psychologist George Miller in 1956, the working memory is limited to 7 ±2 pieces of information. This means that the number of items we can hold in our memory is between 5 and 9.

But recent studies suggest that this capacity can vary widely.  In a study conducted by Psychologist Nelson Cowan and his colleagues, they discovered that the estimates are actually lower, approximately 4 things at one time if people don’t use tricks to store the information. The capacity of working memory also depends on the category of information and their features, such as remembering more digits than letters or familiarising more short words than longer ones.  

All new information in working memory is impermanent. The information can either be decayed or replaced or encoded to long-term memory. Because of this, it can be challenging for some people to integrate more than five bits of information at the same time. 

The Importance of Working Memory

For researchers, working-memory is fundamental to the functioning of the brain, as it is associated with other important abilities such as intelligence. With the constant introduction of new information and experience on a daily basis, our working memory is susceptible to interruption and interference. And one of the habits that could affect the performance of our working memory is multitasking. 

Art Markman, Psychology and Marketing professor at the University of Texas in Austin, points out that “When working memory is filled, performance on cognitive tasks suffers. Multitasking taxes working memory by requiring you to hold in mind information about two or more distinct tasks simultaneously.” He also added that “in order to multitask effectively, you need to decrease the amount of working memory that a task requires. And that’s where habits come in.”

Multitasking and Productivity 

Experts defined multitasking as:

  • Doing more than two tasks at once
  • Shifting focus from one thing to another
  • Executing different tasks in rapid succession 

Many people think that multitasking is a good habit and that it can save time and energy when they perform different tasks at once. But this was a thing in the past as more and more studies reveal the negative effects of multitasking, especially to our brain health.

So, how bad is multitasking to our brain and memory? Let’s say extremely bad.

  • Temporarily drops IQ by 15 points (University of London study), and lowers the density of grey matter in the brain (University of Sussex study)
  • Reduces attention span, affects learning and disrupts working memory (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal)
  • Reduces focus and concentration. “Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.” (Daniel Levitin, Neuroscientist, and Author)
  • Hampers creativity and innovation. “When you try to multitask, you typically don’t get far enough down any road to stumble upon something original because you’re constantly switching and backtracking.” (Earl Miller, Neuroscientist)
  • Damages the brain responsible for emotional intelligence, including self and social awareness. (Travis Bradberry, Author and Emotional Intelligence Expert)
  • Increases stress and burnout. “… the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain”. (Daniel Levitin, Neuroscientist, and Author)

Because multitasking decreases your brain’s efficiency and mental performance, your productivity level also declines! Doing two tasks at once has been found to reduce productivity by up to 40%! 

According to Psychology Professor, Hal Pashler, performing two challenging tasks simultaneously will result in reduced productivity. “You can’t do two demanding, even simple tasks, in parallel.” 

The 2009 Stanford University research of Clifford Nass may further explain why.  In his study, Nass found out that heavy multitaskers were: less mentally organised, worse at sorting out relevant information from irrelevant ones, and had struggled at switching from one task to another. 

Is there a way to avoid the negative effects of multitasking? Of course there is!

  • Nass suggested limiting the tasks to 2 (two) at any given time. He also recommenced the “20-minute rule”, in which you must focus and spend 20 minutes in one task before switching your attention to another task.  
  • Use the “Chunking” strategy. With this technique, you set aside a chunk of time to concentrate on one task all at once instead of doing it throughout the day. Chunking eliminates the need for performing from one task to another. But this strategy can also be only effective when done with greater focus and efficiency. 
  • Create a to-do-list. Whether you are using the traditional list or the digital version, this strategy can be effective in helping you organise your tasks and your schedule; thus, helping you focus on certain tasks in a day. 

“To better understand how the brain and mind works, can help us improve performance and attention in our everyday lives, to improve our safety, increase our work productivity, do better at school, and perform better in sports, ” explains the Cognitive Neuroscientists Kyle Mathewson.

Once you are used to it, multitasking can be a really hard habit to break. So, if you want to boost your productivity and achieve peak brain performance, just always remember: go easy on yourself, concentrate on one task at a time and give yourself a break. Your brain will thank you for it. 

Multitasking divides your attention and leads to confusion and weakened focus. – Deepak Chopra

Hit your Goals and Beat Distractions!

Nowadays, people can choose a wide range of software and applications to help them focus on one task and give up multitasking. If you see yourself as a multitasker, TaskSpur and Ari can help you break this habit.

TaskSpur and Ari are advanced Agile tools designed to help you build an Agile mindset, so you can stop multitasking on the spot and stay focused, productive and organised. Learn more about the amazing features of TaskSpur and Ari. Contact us at Life Intelligence Group today! Visit to learn more!

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Simple & Effective Guide to Breaking Bad Work Habits

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Are you guilty of having bad work habits?

Well, every person has their own habit every time they wake up in the morning or before going to sleep. Habits can be weird, unique, destructive or helpful.

A good habit in the morning would be waking up at 5:00 am and reading an inspirational book for a few minutes. A bad one is ignoring your screaming alarm clock, and checking your phone right away for emails and notifications. Of these two habits, I assume you already know which one is good and which one is somewhat unhealthy.

Successful leaders, as we all know, have habits that make them the people they are today. But they’re still human beings, and we’re pretty sure that they have bad habits too just like the rest of us. But what sets them apart from ordinary people is that they continue to perform and develop their good habits instead of focusing on the bad ones.

Habits, whether they are good or bad, can be challenging to break. They can affect your work performance and the quality of your life. If you want your business to be successful, get your dream promotion, or reach all your goals in life, you must change the way you start and end your day right from your bedroom to your office desk. Avoid the bad ones, cultivate the good ones.

5 Bad Habits to Avoid at Work and How to Break Them

1. Procrastination

There can be a lot of reasons you procrastinate: you hate the task given to you, you want a perfect outcome, you have poor organisation skills or you’re just simply not motivated enough to finish what needs to be done, and many others.

Sometimes though, all you need is a bit of procrastinating to process all the responsibilities aligned under you. However, in business, time is extremely precious and valuable, especially in a fast-paced environment. Procrastinating all the time will not only affect the people around your organisation, but also the business itself.

Overcome procrastination with these techniques:

  • Start with your work right away without interruption. The earlier you start, the faster you’ll accomplish your work. Once you start working, dedicate at least an hour without any disturbance, so you can pour all your focus on it. It’s also ideal to reward yourself once you’ve finished the task on time. That way, you’ll be motivated to do the process again.
  • Diminish your perfectionist thoughts. Your main objective should be about starting and completing the task and not doing things straightaway perfect. Remember that your work is in progress, so embrace imperfections and be realistic with your strategy.
  • Start confidently and positively with your work. Don’t put a negative impression on your work. If you’re not confident about your task, because you believe that you can’t do it, get rid of this thinking! Treat every task, every project an opportunity, and not as a threat to your capabilities and growth.
  • Change your work and thought process. If you think you’re becoming ineffective at work with your current process, the next best thing to do is to change your strategy. By organising your tasks and prioritising things efficiently, you will be able to maximise your time more with less procrastination.

2. Skipping breaks

Regardless of how busy you are, give yourself a break. It’s not smart and healthy to work nonstop without taking your eyes away from your computer screen or getting up from your seat. By taking a break at the right time, you can boost your level of concentration and refresh your tired body and mind.

Here are a few ideas to help motivate you in taking breaks:

  • Eat your lunch on time
  • Avoid eating at your desk
  • Take a quick walk outside your workplace
  • Rest your eyes and take a power nap
  • Grab your water bottle to keep hydrated
  • Put a book or two on your desk to read during your break
  • Invite a co-worker for a cup of coffee

3. Addiction to social media

Checking your personal social media account for more than ten times in a day will surely affect your productivity. Aside from social media addiction, visiting other websites not related to your work can also interfere with your work. So if you’re obsessed with social media but don’t want to lose your job, always keep in mind that there is always a time for everything.

Here are some steps you can take to help break your social media addiction at work:

  • Turn off your app notifications or set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode so you won’t be tempted to check your phone and so you can concentrate more on your tasks.
  • Implement rules for yourself such as staying offline as soon as you leave the house and during working hours.
  • Stay focused on your work and clear your mind from the latest happenings on social media.
  • Once you’re successful in breaking this habit, don’t forget to congratulate and reward yourself for a job well done.

4. Tardiness

Being late is a sign of disrespect to someone else’s time. Constantly arriving late to your work or any appointments can create a negative impression on how you bring yourself to work. If your workmates or your client can arrive on time, why can’t you?

Start building a habit of getting to work early or on time, and encourage yourself to make this a habit every day. By doing this, you’ll arrive at the office with a clear head and in a happy mood.

Here are some simple ways to help avoid tardiness:

  • Go to bed earlier so you can easily get up in the morning without rushing and panicking.
  • Do not set your alarm on a snooze option to avoid falling back to sleep.
  • Always leave your home early to avoid the rush-hour traffic.
  • Prepare your things, or any documents, the night before so you’re not in a rush in the morning.
  • Manage your time effectively by being mindful of your schedule for the next day, paying attention to the time spent on your morning routine, and planning out your breaks and lunchtime the previous day.

5. Stagnation

Stagnation is not a sign of growth. If you don’t have the desire to try a new system or develop a new skill, you will surely fall behind in the rapid changes of the modern world. Whatever talent and skills you have right now, you must continue to cultivate them, and never settle for mediocrity.

Get your inspiration back with these tips:

  • Set goals that challenge you. Setting a goal can give your future an exciting direction. Ask yourself what you really want to happen. Encourage your team to hit your quarterly goals. Show your boss that you’re worthy of a promotion. By setting challenging goals, you become unstoppable and hungry for success.
  • Start a new routine. Doing the same activity at the same place can make you sluggish. Start developing new and different practices that will keep you excited about going to work.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. Commit yourself to a task that will challenge your skills. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Treat it as a training ground to utilise your critical and creative thinking in a thought-provoking way.
  • Continue to learn new things. Don’t put a full stop on what you can do. Motivate yourself to learn new things. Read books about things that you’re passionate about. Start a conversation with your colleagues and lead it by asking questions. Attend seminars and workshops that can help take your career to the next level.

You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. ― John C. Maxwell

It’s Time to Develop New and Healthy Habits!

Do you have habits that are affecting your productivity, time-management, and personal growth?

Wherever you may go, distractions can be all around you. With a distracted mind,  you can easily lose your focus and commitment on things that you’re passionate about.

What you need is  to practice effective time-management to help you develop good habits and get all your priorities straight.

At Life Intelligence Group, we have the tools you need to help you detach from everyday distractions for a stress-free, organised life. Expect a whole new experience of managing your life using our products and services. Our agile tools are built to help you stay focused on things you want to accomplish for today and in the future.

Now, you can be confident that you’ll always stay on track no matter how busy you are. Bad work habits no more!

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