Why does that desktop cluster of sweet, sassy family photographs elicit a not-so-subtle mental barrage to a) call the orthodontist, b) leave early for parent/teacher night and c) grab sports tape on the way home? How is it possible to feel pointed guilt about a special dish that you never prepared when you discover forgotten baby arugula deep in the fridge? Is it the sign of a serious problem when innocuous update texts distract your focus during a heartfelt discussion?
It’s not you. It’s your brain. And believe it or not, your brain is not dysfunctional. It’s perfectly normal.
The Multi-Tasking Myth
As the interconnectedness of our wireless world increases and personal electronic aids evolve, we should be able to get more done in less time, right? Wrong. The human brain is wired to tackle one task at a time, in a logical progression. When too many things vie for active attention at once, our brains short circuit.
Studies show that multi-tasking increases the body’s level of cortisol, a stress hormone, and adrenaline — your fight-or-flight reflex. The more competing functions demand action, the longer these levels remain high. Chronic activation of stress hormones can alter your immune system and lead to significant health risks.
Short-term results are no less alarming. The brain region associated with multi-tasking is your prefrontal cortex. Ironically, the prefrontal cortex also controls distractibility. In a seemingly-ironic twist, this means the more stress placed on diverse brain function, the more distracted and less productive you will be. Multi-tasking creates the perfect environment for reduced attention span and focus: in fact, multi-tasking can result in productivity loss of about 40%. That means the amount of work you do during 8 hours you multi-task on 20 different tabs, can be reduced to less than 5 hours if you switch to single-tasking!
Fortunately, knowing what doesn’t work helps shape discovery of what does. If multi-tasking is ineffective at best and likely to result in serious health issues over time, how can we re-negotiate what we do and how we do it without compromising the desired upshot?
Currently a hot social topic, mindful clutter reduction is discussed purposely in minimalistic, Feng Shui, environmental and economic realms. Decluttering can lead to exciting design options, create emotional flow, save the planet and your financial bottom line.
But the brain-health link seals the deal. When reducing waste sharpens your brain, protects your body and ups productivity isn’t it, pardon the pun, a no-brainer?
- Reduce Buying Habits: One of the best ways to declutter is to reduce buying new items. Rather than buying a new item, you can try to repair what you already own or even repurpose something to meet your needs. Another important thing is to differentiate between want and need. Before buying an item, always consider if it will add value to your life or not. This will decrease your spending and the amount of stuff you own. Both your brain and your wallet will thank you for this.
- Start Small: The great news is that even small changes elicit an immediate effect. Practice the razor-sharp focus you’re trying to acquire by starting with a single room and taking it from there. Perhaps a small room, like the bathroom. If you’re having a particularly difficult time not multitasking, do repetitive, smaller tasks for a short period of time that will help get rid of the urge. Then return to focusing on a single task.
- Go through medications and dispose of any past their expiration date. Toss skin care and make-up products you no longer use. Invest in attractive bins and baskets for organized storage. Think about keeping counter space clear; you’ll love the streamlined look.
- Kitchen cleaning: Remember that forgotten baby arugula deep in your fridge? If we saved even 1/4 of the food wasted per year on a global scale, it would feed over 850 million hungry people. You can alleviate knee-jerk guilt and provide food for the malnourished by taking simple steps to reduce waste in your kitchen.
- Prepare meal plans before you shop and buy only the ingredients required. Forego fruit and vegetable bulk buying. You’ll find fresher produce sold individually and will vastly decrease the potential for waste. Consider freezing half a loaf of bread at the get-go. Place newly purchased food items at the back of your refrigerator, so older dishes get eaten first. Consult recipes for creative ways to use leftovers.
- Disconnect. Virtual reality is just that–virtual. Yet it affects your brain just as physical clutter and waste do. Electronic interaction is so pervasive and intrusive in our everyday lives we may only realize the full extent of the stress it elicits once we start to disconnect.
Go ahead. Focus your efforts on reducing waste without regret. You’ll encourage efficiency, support the environment and save some cash. But most of all, do it because it’s good for you!
Do you try to multi-task or single-task? Please share if you have tips on how to clear your mind!
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