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Increase Your Productivity and Peace of Mind by Singletasking

06/10/2015 08:58 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT
Shutterstock / Jose AS Reyes

As someone who has dedicated his life to helping people reach their potential, I always appreciate effective methods of calming the mind and increasing focus. Without a calm mind and a strong focus, we can't be our best, most productive selves. One approach detailed by Devora Zack is especially inspiring. Zack, a leadership consultant for major institutions and organizations, has written Singletasking, a book based on the scientific evidence that multi-tasking is a myth. Her advice: If you want to get something done, just tackle that and nothing else. In essence, what Zack has developed is a practical form of mindfulness.

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Zack's work with researchers at Stanford and other universities led to the conclusion that multi-tasking has a harmful effect on the brain. Overloading your mind with too many competing stimuli can actually shrink the prefrontal cortex, and lower our IQ. MRI imaging shows the brain visibly struggling as it tries to juggle different tasks at once, triggering the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Overwhelmed, our mindset shifts us into a far less resilient, more emotional and agitated state.

The result is a feedback loop of stress: the more agitated we are, the less productive; the less productive, the more agitated we are. Yet we live in a time and society when we are compelled to get things done. So how can we increase both productivity and peace of mind?

Here are three techniques from Zack's fascinating book:

Practice immersion. Become fully immersed in the task at hand and you'll achieve a state of absorption known as a flow state. When we're in a flow state, we actually achieve a higher than usual degree of competence. We do more better, faster, and more easily. There are many areas in which we can achieve this state of total immersion, usually during activities that we love, from crafts to athletics to gaming to cooking. But we can achieve that same beautifully flowing, creative, confident state in any activity -- we just have to engage in it fully.

Create a parking lot. In mindfulness, thoughts may come into our heads while we're meditating, and we simply let them go. It's the same with singletasking. Zack also writes that it's inevitable that thoughts will happen while we're focusing on a single task. Instead of trying to force them out of our mind, create a mental place to park them until we're ready to tackle them. Or, pause for a moment to jot them down in a designated place, such as the notes app on your smartphone. That way, we also won't be distracted by the fear of losing track of a good idea.

Separate from your smart phone. Our minds are easily distracted. Given that we often run our lives from our smart phones -- from newspapers to texting to emails to the alarm clock -- it's critical to consciously separate ourselves from these devices. Just put the phone away. The destructive affect a vibrating smart phone with a message has on our ability to fall asleep is remarkable, and complete. Just as I encourage people to identify sources of distraction, Zack encourages people to acknowledge the incredible power our devices have to shatter our concentration and focus.

Attaining inner peace and a happier, more productive life is a total commitment, and there are many paths to get there. What Zack offers in her book are tools for mindfulness that compliment spiritual and emotional growth. And creating a focused space in which we can fully concentrate on one task gives us mental confidence -- a confidence that can help build our foundation for a mindful meditation practice. Quite simply, there is a healing quality to being able to focus; a sense of transformation to being able to fully commit to, and complete, a single task. So the next time you find yourself in an agitated state, facing a pile of to-do's, try singletasking. Making it a habit, along with mindful meditation, may indeed transform your work, and your life.

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