Everything, everywhere, all at once. That seems to be the status quo nowadays. Never has the pace of life been faster, the flow of information been greater, or the demand to keep up been more urgent. The push for ever-increasing productivity has only amplified the temptation to multitask, to endeavor to take on a hundred projects all at once in the vain hope of accomplishing more at the end of the day.
The simple truth, though, is that doing more does not necessarily mean doing better. In fact, the evidence suggests an inverse relationship between cognitive load and cognitive performance (1). In other words, the more tasks you attempt to attend to all at once, the less able you are to deal with any of them effectively.
Multitasking drastically amplifies the overall cognitive load you’re subjecting your nervous system to, even unwittingly. As we’ve seen, now more than ever, workers are under tremendous pressure to be productive, and that can make the temptation to multi-task especially great. In these uncertain economic times, after all, you want your employer and your colleagues to see your superpowers on full display in the workplace. That can make it difficult to say no, regardless of how much you already have on your plate.
There’s also the reality that your obligations don’t begin or end at your office door. Chances are, both at work and away from it, you’re juggling a lot of disparate responsibilities all at once, from home to childcare to attending to the needs of aging parents. That’s a lot of mental noise to manage while you’re also attempting to kindle the embers of inspiration.
The truth is that the human mind is just not built for multitasking. The marvelously complex brain is built to focus - singularly, deeply, and well - on one thing at a time. When you endeavor to do more, you’re not just compromising your performance, but you’re also overloading your nervous system. That can have long-lasting negative effects on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being and on your ability to focus, process and retain information, master new skills, and hone and refine existing ones. This also means that, in the end, your capacity to innovate, to tap into your creative flow, will be greatly diminished.
The good news, though, is that it is possible to break free of the multitasking mind trap and to quiet the inner voice that drives you to it. One of the most important strategies is to create an environment that inspires calm, quiet, and concentration from the inside out.
Proven Ways to Be Productive
The temptation to multitask can be great, and resisting that siren song isn’t always easy, but you can create systems and environments that enhance your inner calm. This, in turn, will optimize your focus and make it easier to mono-task. Below are actionable tips for evading the multitasking mind trap, quieting your mind, and tapping into your creative flow:
Recognize that “failure” to multitask isn’t a shortcoming or a deficiency on your part; rather, acknowledge, accept, and honor the way that the human mind is designed to work.
Commit to mono-tasking and create an external environment that supports focus and concentration.
Create a list and prioritize which tasks should be completed first.
Minimize or eliminate as much external stimuli as possible, such as closing doors and windows, silencing your phone, and turning off non-urgent notifications.
Invest in noise-cancelling headphones, muffs, or earplugs.
Practice meditation, mindfulness, and related relaxation techniques to better quiet your mind.
Use sound-absorbing materials throughout the space to create zones of quiet.
The Sounds of Success
Despite your best efforts to focus on a single task, if you’ve ever tried to work on an important project in a crowded office, a busy internet cafe, or a house full of noisy children, you know that producing anything of quality in such an environment can be nearly impossible. Your view can be blocked from all distractions. You may have no one explicitly seeking your attention, but those outside noises still spill over into your physical and mental space, robbing you of your focus and creativity.
There’s mounting evidence, in fact, that your soundscape directly impacts not only human cognitive performance but also mood and even sensory perception. This is why, for example, chronic exposure to noise pollution has been linked to declines in school and workplace performance and productivity and an increase in dementia risk (2-5).
Conversely, research increasingly shows that a positive soundscape can enhance focus, cognition, sensory processing, and emotional well-being (6-9).
Your sound environment is also going to correlate directly to your ability to “mono-task,” to focus deeply on a single issue, project, or goal at a time. When your attention is not diverted by a flood of external, and extraneous, stimuli, your thought processes will not be triggered to veer off into unrelated trajectories. You’ll be less likely to start thinking about next week’s client meeting or your daughter’s upcoming dental appointment. The external quiet contributes to and deepens your internal quiet, and that, ultimately, multiplies your powers of concentration.
The Neurobiology of Auditory Processing
The apparent correlation between sound environments, cognitive performance, attention and focus, and overall mood is not difficult to understand when you examine the neurobiology of auditory processing. The reality is that the human auditory system is a miracle of elegant complexity. Hearing, it turns out, is about much more than simply converting acoustic sound waves into something we humans perceive as sound. Rather, it requires the transformation of external, environmental stimuli into meaningful sensory information through elaborate neurobiological processes that involve the entire brain, from its deepest and most primitive structures to its outermost, and most sophisticated cortices, working in concert to enable us both to hear and to listen to the world around us.
What that means, finally, is that when your sound environment proliferates with extraneous noise, your brain is consumed by the task of receiving, processing, and filtering those sounds. Even when you are not consciously aware of the process, your brain is ever on the alert, blocking what is not meaningful while remaining ever-vigilant to detect the sounds you might need to hear, from human conversation to the cries of a baby to sounds of potential danger. That’s a heavy cognitive load, particularly when you’re also engaged in a task that requires attention and creativity.
Fortunately, though, it’s possible to create an environment that will help, not hinder you, as you seek to quiet your mind and focus (only) on the creative task at hand. Even something as simple as the color of your walls can determine both how you filter and perceive the sounds around you and how those ambient noises affect your emotions and your cognition. Likewise, acoustic installations, from panels and ceiling tiles to clouds and baffles, can absorb sound, creating distinct “zones” designed to facilitate the specific work at hand.
Thus, when you need to create a space for brainstorming sessions between colleagues, there is a sound treatment for that. Or, when you need to design a quiet space for solo, highly focused creative work, sound-absorbing panels are just the ticket, even in today’s more compact, open-plan office spaces. Even where separate offices may be unfeasible, the use of distinct zones of sound facilitates solo-tasking by fostering more productive sound environments. These soundscapes at once filter out external noise pollution, which in turn, quiets the autonomic nervous system, making it easier for workers to quiet their minds. This kind of soundscape makes for a calmer, happier, more focused, and more confident worker–and that, ultimately, is everything you need to tap into your creative flow.
How FSorb Can Help
FSorb is no stranger to creative innovation. The industry leader in eco-friendly acoustic design, FSorb has helped architects, environmental engineers, and designers the world over create innovative public and private spaces ideally crafted for both comfort and creativity. Contact your local FSorb representative today to explore FSorb’s exciting inventory of customizable acoustic solutions and to design the perfect sound treatment strategy for your next design project.
At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.
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Yu Y, Su J, Jerrett M, Paul KC, Lee E, Shih IF, Haan M, Ritz B. Air pollution and traffic noise interact to affect cognitive health in older Mexican Americans. Environ Int. 2023 Mar;173:107810. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.107810. Epub 2023 Feb 10. PMID: 36870315.
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