10/21/2016 Stephanie Anderson

Want to work smarter, not harder? Unplug and watch productivity soar

shutterstock_279658379The movement to unplug from work so you can plug into life is gaining steam. While you often hear about this concept in relation to parenthood or traveling, it’s equally important when at work.

Technology has transformed the workplace in many positive ways, but it has come with some negative consequences. Multitasking is the new norm, plus phone alerts and beeps create plenty of non-work-related distractions throughout the day.

It seems counter-intuitive, but silencing your phone, closing social media and ignoring email alerts just might be the secret to being a superstar worker. That’s because you have only so much brain power at your disposal, and if you try to balance too many tasks at once, you spread that power out so thin that you’re no longer as effective as you should be.

A recent CNN report, for example, looks at an MRI of someone driving. Then, that MRI is compared to another that shows the driver trying to multitask. “If you just layer in one more thing — if the person is listening while they are driving — all of a sudden the amount of attention, the amount of brain bandwidth going toward driving decreases by about 37 percent. So you’re not multi-tasking, you’ve actually reduced the amount of attention you’re now paying to your driving.”

Now think about that and how multitasking impacts your work. “A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child,” according to Forbes.

So even though you think you can talk on the phone, send an email and read a text message all at once, you’re really just impairing your cognitive control and ultimately becoming a less effective worker. To work smarter, not harder, it’s time to unplug.

In general, people can focus on tasks for a maximum of 90–120 minutes at a time. If you can create a schedule that allows you to work in increments with breaks in between, you just may find you get much more done in the day.

This strategy is called time blocking. Planning ahead in this manner allows you to be mentally prepared, have better focus, feel less stressed and be more productive. Essentially you block out your entire day with tasks and try to stick with the schedule as much as possible. It’s not just good for work projects, either. You can also block time for checking email and taking a lunch break.

For time blocking to work well, it’s essential to unplug. Silence your phone, close your email, turn your IM to busy and resist the urge to check social media for cute pictures of your niece. Do this for one week and see how much work you get done. I have a feeling you might be surprised.

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