Juggling is not recommended?

Distractions are the epitome of my life.  I have always been a proud multitasker, but I’m starting to realize that this isn’t always a good thing.  Many of the environments that we work and live in each day don’t provide the structure to be a single-tasker.  We utilize computers and networks that have instant messaging, email, and other “productivity” tools that perpetuate the rabbit hole syndrome that defines distraction.  As a parent, I feel that I get interrupted all the time on a task by a request for help or to answer a plethora of questions from my kids and even husband that pull me away from focusing on my “job”.

I am an avid audiobook listener.  I find it easier to listen to an audiobook while I do yard work, working on a crossword puzzle, or when playing an addicting game on my phone.  Is this considered multitasking?  I feel things like audiobooks increase the ability of multitasking.  How many people do you know that sit and do nothing else while listening to an audiobook?  I’ve never read more books in the past few months due to this “productivity tool”.  I have difficulties reading an actual book because I have to put all my attention into and not let anything interfere.  As I type this, perhaps this is my problem.  In my opinion, there are times when multitasking can be beneficial in a leisure environment.  However, there is a difference in multitasking for work-related tasks.

This article lists ten reasons why single-tasking is beneficial.

  1. Conserves energy
  2. Improves productivity
  3. Increases commitment
  4. Promotes self-discipline
  5. Strengthens us against distractions
  6. Improves our attention span
  7. Makes us happier
  8. Improves our communication
  9. Improves our relationships
  10. Gives us an advantage

There are that I can agree with but others from this list are a stretch.  As you can see, I’m still struggling with the idea that multitasking is all bad.

When I typed in “distraction” in my search for this blog, the first link brought me to an ADHD help site called ADDitude.  After reading through it, it makes me second guess whether we all may have an attention deficit to some degree.  As Jocelyn noted, our profession leads us into multitasking but this is necessary to survive in our jobs.  We are constantly being faced with questions (on and off-topic) from students and colleagues, interruptions from unexpected visitors at the door,  off-topic side conversation that you need to redirect, a perceived disagreement/argument between students, students arriving late, students complaining they are sick, an unexpected behaviour, technical difficulties, etc.  Many of these we have to turn our attention t0 in order to continue with the priority activity at hand.  However, there are many distractions for which we can avoid addressing like looking at our phones and smartwatches….well really, those are the biggest ones.

Because I am supporting many classrooms throughout the day as an LRT, I like to justify that I have my phone and my smartwatch on me on full alert in case I have a teacher that needs my help with a student or answering a text that may need an immediate answer from either my family, friends, or colleagues. However, this takes me away from the present moment supports that I should be providing to both the teacher and students.  Technology has created the ability and expectation for everyone to be available instantaneously and get upset when we don’t get a timely response.  However, we are taking this aspect of in-person interaction away by being immersed in our phones.  Since when does this become a priority over the in-person interaction?  It doesn’t make sense.

Nir Eyal is an expert in behavioral engineering, He helps businesses help to incorporate elements of behavioral science to enable software designers to develop habit-forming products.  These habits are part of the distraction that creates and feeds into our multitasking behaviours.  He explains that time management is pain management.  What he means by this is when we don’t want to do a task, we look to avoid it and find ways to get rid of the negative sensation.  We do this by procrastinating which leads to us getting distracted by something that gives us a more positive sensation, such as looking to see who liked our recent Instagram post or finding recipes for supper.  He also adds to the idea previously discussed how our work environments are structured around multitasking.  We get notifications instantly for emails, texts, social media, and how quickly we respond, no matter the urgency of the notification, determines how easily distracted we are, sometimes without even knowing it.  He explains more about this research in this video about being “Indistractable“.

A simple way that a former grade one teacher colleague used to deter student interruptions during her Daily 5 small group sessions was very clever.  She wore a headband with cat ears.  When she had these on, students knew that she was not available because she was focusing on the small group of students that she was working with.  So brilliant!  No different than the nurses mentioned in Nir Eyal’s video that wore red plastic vests to indicate they didn’t want to be distracted when organizing medication dosages for patients at the hospital.  An easy visual cue.  However, this isn’t something that can translate to the online distractions that we experience, or can it?

For specific online distractions, this article listed some practical ways to single task.

  1. Get into a routine
  2. Silence all non-essential notifications
  3. Block access to distracting websites (see below for specific Chrome extensions)
  4. Take a screen break
  5. Get some rest

For myself, I often take several days to write a blog because I am usually multitasking.  This time, I set a timer for one hour at a time, I turned off my notifications, I put myself in our home office with the door closed to deter any interruptions, turned on our newly purchased light therapy lamp, and plugged away.  I have to say, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten a lot more done using this Pomodoro technique than my usual multitasking approach.  However, I need to make a routine of this in order for real sustainable productivity to continue.

Here are some other suggestions of specific online related ways to help eliminate distractions so that you can be more productive on single tasks.

Timebox your schedule

Timeboxing means creating a schedule of what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it.  You want to fill up all of your time so that you can’t deviate or procrastinate from the game plan.  This includes setting time for scrolling through social media, replying to emails, spending time with your family, etc. The notifications on our devices often distract us by pulling us away from what we really want to do. We may try to ignore those triggers, but research shows that ignoring a call or message can be just as distracting as responding to one.

DF Tube 

DF Tube (Distraction Free for YouTube™)

This Chrome extension transforms the appearance of your YouTube page by entirely eliminating recommendations, related videos, and comments.  This is just what you need when you’re in work or study mode or when you’re using a YouTube video in a presentation.  You also have the ability to change DF YouTube’s settings, so you can hide some distractions but show others that you may want to see.  For example, get rid of the sidebar but still see related videos that might be helpful.

BlockSite

This Chrome extension allows you to block specific sites based on parameters you define so you can remain productive on a single task.  There are different modes to select from that can have a password protection option applied to make it even more difficult to access unnecessary sites.  It can be downloaded on your mobile device as well.

StayFocused

This Chrome extension helps you stay focused by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. Once your allotted time has been used up, the sites you have blocked will be inaccessible for the rest of the day.

Here is an article that lists several other options of apps/extensions to help with eliminating distractions.

So what do you do when you’ve applied all the techniques and installed all the Chrome extensions and you’re still distracted.  Distracted by what, you say?  Distractions can easily come within the productivity suite or presentation tool that you are using as well.  I get caught up in the formatting options in the productivity suites and presentation tools that I use ALL THE TIME!  What kind of font, colour, size, angle of text/image, shape, page layout, white space, image size, animation, timing….the list high school GIFgoes on and on.  Sure these options may make the presentation look great, but perhaps those moving parts on the screen are a distraction to your audience and their attention on what you’re presenting itself.  It’s a vicious cycle for which one must be disciplined to be able to prioritize the steps within the task itself.  How many times have you witnessed students excited to do a writing task on a computer but waste all of their time tinkering with the formatting options or selecting songs to “listen” to on YouTube to help them regulate during their independent work time?

We have to keep in mind that it’s ok to not be doing something in order to breathe, regroup, rest, and relax (I say this more for myself as I struggle with downtime).  I encourage you to watch and do further searching (single-tasking, of course) on the Bored and Brilliant Challenge by Manoush Zomorodi. It’s an interesting view of our multitasking tendencies and identifying what we might be missing out on when we unplug. In addition, this video by Manoush also highlights our dependency on technology and how distracting it can be just walking down the street.

The Bored and Brilliant Book by Manoush Zomorodi — Manoush

I want to leave you with this one last thought.  We are dependent on technology to help us be productive each day, but isn’t it also making us less productive when using it?

5 thoughts on “Juggling is not recommended?

  1. I would have to agree that it does make us less productive during the day! I chuckled when I read about the teacher with the cat-eared headband. I wear a hat when I conference with kids and the kids are NOT allowed to interrupt unless they are barfing or bleeding. This is sacred focused time with that group of students or that one particular student and we are all worthy of one on one attention to improve and set goals. One other thing I have started to do is actually eat my lunch at school without doing a million other tasks– to actually enjoy my lunch and conversation with students. Once my lunch is finished, then I can do other things. Thanks for your reflections! Just wondering if you’re using all those chrome extensions, I found that interesting!

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  2. Thanks for a great read! I like the quote you included from Nir Eyal about how time management is pain management. I could not agree more and something I need to work more at! I like all the extensions you discussed as easy to limit distractions while working on the computer. Very helpful!

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  3. Pingback: Presentation Tools, Productivity Suits and the Question of Multitasking – Alyssa Mckenzie's Blog

  4. Great post Daina. I think there is a running theme amongst these blogs … is becoming a ‘hyper’ multi-tasker an occupational hazzard for educators? It’s true that most of us are always ‘on’ and make a copious amount of decisions (big and small) through out the school day … then life also gets in the way (one reason I really hate when people say we get too many holidays and summers ‘off’). Thanks for the insight on procrastination (the struggle is real :-). Thanks for the tips and suggestions (I’ll try them … later ;-))

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