We view divided attention or multitasking negatively, but it can be greatly beneficial to boost productivity.

Divided attention has a negative connotation of not giving tasks your full focus. Although this can be true, there are ways to hone your multitasking skills to increase your productivity. All it takes is a little bit of practice to understand when and how to use divided attention properly.

There are a few things you can do to perfect the art of divided attention so that you can improve your efficiency.

As with anything, practice makes perfect

Practicing is the key to mastering any skill, and the key to mastering divided attention is no different. Multitasking is difficult and stressful at first because a lot of things are going on at once. However, with enough practice, you will begin to sharpen your instincts and reactions.

Start with two or three tasks and once and build yourself up to several. By starting small, you will also train your brain to retain information better. This is essential to mastering the art of divided attention because you need to remember what you were doing before you switched tasks.

It will take time before you can perfectly multitask so give yourself time and patience to get it rightThe goal is to develop a certain amount of muscle memory to so your brain can retain information whilst knowing how to quickly respond to an email.

Recognise tasks can be done with divided attention

Not all tasks are suitable for multitasking and you need to differentiate between those that are and those that aren’t. Even though you’re speeding through tasks, your brain is a little bit slower when you’re doing lots of things simultaneously.

Some tasks need more focus than this, especially if they are important. Make sure to set aside time for tasks which need your full attention. It may be useful to use a grading system to set aside more important tasks from less important ones.

Write it all down

Writing things down will take a little pressure off your brain simply because it won’t have to remember as much. If you need to come back to something, take a note of it. If you are in the middle of thought before switching tasks, write it down so you don’t forget it. Nothing is more annoying than forgetting where you left off.

Take regular breaks

Multitasking is hard work on the brain and you can’t maintain divided attention forever. Make sure to take regular breaks in the process, every two or three hours, so that your brain has time to rest.

Take a walk to refresh yourself and get the blood flowing again and your brain working at peak capacity. Let yourself stop thinking about what needs to be done and allow your mind to wander. Giving yourself a good break will reduce stress and allow you to focus when you come back to work.

Give certain things your full focus

Multitasking and divided attention can be helpful to get lots of things done at once, but your brain also needs to practice full attention. By swapping between divided attention and full attention, your brain gets stronger at both.

This means that even when you are swapping between tasks, your brain still knows how to give a task proper focus. Even though you are working on several tasks, your brain will give the task at hand its full attention before jumping to the next.

Prioritize and group tasks

It is important to prioritize important tasks which require your full attention to make sure that they get focussed on. However, it can also be helpful to group tasks together which can be tackled simultaneously; things like correspondence can all be done in one large chunk.

By grouping these things together and spending an hour on them twice a day, you will limit distractions from the more important tasks. This will improve your productivity when tackling larger and more urgent projects.

Set time limits

You can’t use divided attention all the time. However, by setting aside an hour twice a day, you can use this time to get through all of your menial tasks which don’t take the same concentration.

If you know you have time set aside for them, when emails and calls come through, you won’t lose focus when correspondence comes through. This increases your focus on the task at hand.

We can’t constantly be in a state of divided attention, and we certainly can’t multitask everything. It is important to know what you can and can’t do in tandem and what needs your whole attention.

By using divided attention on menial tasks such as correspondence, you can improve your productivity. Divided attention can help efficiency on the more important tasks by limiting distractions during periods of focus.

It is important to know when you can multitask and on what you should focus on. Trying to use divided attention with everything will decrease productivity. Yet, harnessing the art of divided attention at the right time and with the right tasks can improve your efficiency overall.


  1. https://cardinalatwork.stanford.edu/

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