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Multitasking can damage our brain. Here are ways to improve focus and productivity


Nodding like you’re listening to a friend while checking your phone, only to look up and say, wait what? Guilty. While multitasking isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it shouldn’t take up the majority of our day. Multitasking can damage our ability to retain important information and, ironically, make us less productive. Our attention is valuable, and when we see it as such, we can better organize our days to enhance it.

Reply from Dr. Mark Milstein, author a new book The Age-Resistant Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Dementia which examines how training the brain makes it stronger with age. By age 40, our brains begin to shrink, which can make it harder to focus and feel productive. Actively working on focus throughout life can make a difference, he writes, and that means slowing down and being more mindful of how we move from task to task.

“Our brains can trick us into thinking we’re constantly spinning our plates and multitasking when it’s clear that our attention or our performance has slipped,” he says.

It’s a matter of seconds

The hippocampus, a part of the brain heavily associated with memory, acts as a waiting room that decides what information we consider important, says Milstein, who notes that when we’re multitasking, we don’t give our hippocampus a chance to relay important information. for long-term memory. He says that it only takes seven to ten seconds of extra attention to remember something. It’s no wonder we forget where we just put our keys when we’re texting a friend at the same time.

“When we’re multitasking, we’re telling our brains that certain things aren’t worth remembering,” he says. “This is extra time [of focus] tells our brain that the information stored in the hippocampus is worth paying attention to.’

To signal to our brains that something is worthwhile, we can spend a few more seconds—literally—thinking, deepening our focus on a specific task and putting our phone down in the process.

Your afternoon blues are telling you something

The noon dip or the need to drink coffee at 3:00 p.m. warns us of exhaustion. Instead of tackling every single task at once, it’s more efficient to focus on one task at a time.

“Your attention is like a cell phone battery. It trickles down throughout the day,” says Milstein. “There are certain times of the day when we’re going to be less focused, when productivity is going to drop.”

To combat burnout, simply set a schedule where you alternate between pure concentration time and break time. It mimics decades assistant time management technique. Your brain can take a break and then refocus.

The method usually works in 25-minute intervals followed by short breaks, so you know how much time you have to devote to the task and when you can take it easy. When it’s time for that focused interval, put your phone down and limit the distractions of social media and other tempting social butterflies. Take these breaks seriously and don’t even engage in mindless tasks.

“People are surprised how much more they remember if they just slow down a little bit in a world where we’re forced to multitask and move on to the next thing,” he says.

Be careful

Taking breaks to breathe, closing your eyes, and simply pausing throughout the day can help your memory. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, can become stronger like a muscle in the gym when we exercise regularly attentivenessimproving our ability to be in the present moment.

The key to protecting your brain is not giving up on multitasking. When we take on too many tasks all the time, all at once, it chronically raises cortisol (the stress hormone) and damages our brains as we age.

“Multitasking doesn’t have to be the enemy,” says Milstein. “It’s just that we spend too much of the day or all day doing it, [and] it can be very distressing and exhausting.’

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