Sitting in front of the glowing screen of my laptop, preparing to write this blog post, my attention was pulled in every direction but the direction of my open document in Microsoft Word. Between Facebook, Reddit, Spotify, The New York Times, Pinterest… so many interesting pages and stories awaited me. All I had to do was move my cursor over two inches and click.
Today’s emerging adult population (of which I’m a member) considers themselves to be great multi-taskers. We’re the world’s first generation to have grown up with computers and other devices. We’re digital natives. In many cases, we’re our parents’ at-home tech support. We’re characterized as never being very far away from our phones, lest we miss out on texting our friends or capturing the perfect Insta-worthy shot.
The trouble with this is, when it comes time to do homework (or, later on, work assignments) we have a hard time “switching off”. We tend to have lots of windows and apps open at once so we can easily toggle between our email, social media accounts, shopping pages, messages, Netflix… When we get stuck, it’s just way too easy to switch off our brains and switch over to something a bit more interesting.
And no matter how convinced we are of our multitasking abilities, neuroscience research has proven that our brains are uniquely wired to focus on one thing at a time. And multitasking actually SLOWS you down. According to an American Psychological Association report, shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.
So how does one simultaneously limit multitasking and stay focused? For the answer to this question, I turned to our fearless leader, Lesley, for her expertise!
Alex: Hi Lesley! Thanks for speaking with me today. So, when we spoke about this topic, you said that you had a client, once, who figured out the perfect solution. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Lesley: Yeah! Absolutely. Distractions are everywhere, especially when you’re working on a computer. And the direction homework assignments are going, most, if not all, school work will be based online very soon. So how do you keep yourself focused on your work when you’re working on a computer or laptop? Well, my client Amy, who has been a victim to the many distractions of working on her laptop, recently shared with me her newest weapon for staying focused while doing her homework on or with her computer: multiple desktops.
Alex: Multiple desktops? What does that mean, exactly?
Lesley: Multiple desktops are available on both Mac and PC platforms. They allow the user to create multiple, and separate, workspaces on your computer, allowing you to have only the apps and tabs open that are relevant to a particular task at a time. (Learn more about multiple desktops on your Mac or PC.)
Amy, for example, has different desktops for each subject. On each desktop she opens up only the tools she needs to complete her assignments for that subject. This means that when she’s on that desktop, she’s only able to do things related to the assignment at hand. If she wants to check email, play a game or check her favorite social media account, she has to physically change spaces. And while it takes very little effort (swiping with two fingers on a Mac either left or right) it’s this very conscious act that triggers an awareness that you are moving away from the task at hand to do something else. Basically, using multiple distinct desktops make it just a little inconvenient to multi-task, which seems to be just enough of a deterrent to help one stay focused.
Alex: This sounds like a great solution for students. But what about people in the work force? How would this benefit someone like you or me, for example?
Lesley: Oh this is a great solution for students and non-students, alike. I tried this system out for my own work and was amazed at how much it helped me stay on task. I keep my communication and time management tools on one desktop (iMessage, Mail, Calendar), my coaching tools (video conference app, time tracking website and student meeting notes) on another and my business management tools (Excel, Invoicing, Contracts, InDesign, etc.) on a third. As I move between the different types of work I do on a daily basis, I switch to the appropriate desktop to complete my work for the task at hand. Everything I need is already open and ready to go. And while notifications still show up on all desktops, because it’s not as easy to toggle away from my work desktops to my messaging desktop to respond to them, I let them go and deal with them in more of a batch mode later on that day.
Alex: Thanks so much, Lesley! I’ll be sure to try this, myself! To be honest, as we’ve been talking, I’ve felt myself get distracted by message notifications on Facebook and an email message that arrived in my Gmail account. Keeping these things in a separate place will practically eliminate that.
If this sounds like the right solution for you, check out some more of Lesley’s tips below to really maximize your concentration potential!
- Make sure you check the box to have applications be able to be open on multiple desktops at once
- Use different background images for each desktop so you can easily identify which one you are on
- Really need to avoid distractions? Select the “Do not disturb” (Mac)/”Quiet Hours” (PC) option in your system preferences to turn off notifications.
- Turn your phone over and put it on do not disturb or airplane mode while you work. Use breaks from your homework to check out what’s been happening while you have been getting your work done