Ever opened an email – or decided to send one – while you were talking to somebody on the phone? Ever used your cell phone while driving? Ever smoked pot? The effect is the same.

Author of 18 Minutes (find your focus, master distraction and get the right things done), Peter Bregman cites research that shows people distracted, “by incoming email and phone calls saw a ten-point fall in their IQ”.

Bregman says the impact of a ten-point drop in your IQ is the same result as losing a night of sleep and more than twice the effect of smoking marijuana.

“Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves, thinking we’re getting more done. In reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%.”

Bregman goes on to relate how he switched off distractions. When he was with his children, he didn’t allow himself to be distracted by email – he gave them his full attention.

“It was delightful! I never realised how significantly a short moment of checking my email disengaged me from the people and things right there in front of me.”

In his book Your Brain at Work, David Rock says that while your brain can hold several chunks of information at once, it can’t perform more than one conscious process at a time without impacting performance.

Rock offers these tips for dealing with distraction:

  •        –  Catch yourself trying to do two things at once and slow down instead.
  •        –  Embed repetitive tasks where you can.
  •        –  Get decisions and thinking processes into the right order to reduce ‘queues’ of decisions.
  •        –  If you have to multitask, combine active thinking tasks only with automatic embedded routines.

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