Constantly failing to tick off everything on your daily to-do list? We feel you. If you can’t blame procrastination or back-to-back meetings, you might have a case of attention residue.
Science has proven that human beings are not natural multitaskers, with only less than 10% of the population being adept at doing more than one thing at once. But with a barrage of emails, text messages and social media to catch up with on top of actual work, we can’t help but at least try to juggle everything at once.
However, multitasking might be costing you your productivity and the quality of your work. According to a study by Sophie Leroy, a business school professor at the University of Minnesota, “people need to stop thinking about one task in order to fully transition their attention and perform well on another. Results indicate it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent task performance suffers.”
This incomplete transference of attention is, as Leroy puts it, attention residue.
So while it feels like you’re completing a lot of work simultaneously, your productivity actually goes down because your attention is never fully on each individual task. You end up being more careless, slow or just downright unmotivated to continue because there’re so many things on your mind.
Thankfully, there’s a simple way to resolve attention residue — deep work. In the self-help book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, author Cal Newport describes it as the “ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”, where you disconnect from everything else and focus all your energy on one thing for as long as you can or until you complete it.
Turn on your email’s out-of-office message and switch your phone to airplane mode. Then plug in your earpiece, turn up the music and work on whatever project you have on hand.
If the nature of your job requires you to work on multiple small tasks at once (like run various social media channels), reserve long periods of deep work to big projects or try the Pomodoro technique. This popular and highly raved-about work system gets you to work wholeheartedly in short 25-minute blocks, with five-minute breaks in between.
Ultimately, it's all about self-discipline. It might be hard at first, but knowing you’ve literally given your all to every single project will just make relaxing on the weekends so much more satisfying, wouldn’t it?