June 12, 2018

There’s something magical about multitasking—it can feel like you’re defying the logic of time and space and doing more than the average human.

Why just sit in a meeting when you can sit in a meeting and respond to emails?

Why just walk the dog when you can walk your dog and catch up with mom?

Why just go to the bathroom when you can go to the bathroom and post a new Instagram (one that’s, of course, not bathroom related)?

But multitasking isn’t as glorious as it might seem. Research shows that multitasking actually isn’t good for us. (Gasp!)

Multitasking isn’t as glorious as it might seem.

Our brains are built to concentrate on only one thing at a time. When we push those limits with two, three, four tasks at once, we set ourselves up for brain drain, more stress, and to actually get less done.

Single-tasking—aka doing one thing at a time—is the way to go. But it’s easier said than done, especially when most of us have a smartphone attached to us like a fifth appendage.

The good news: We can steal a trick from our phone to help us stay focused—airplane mode.

There’s literal airplane mode, which can help us physically turn off the notifications and pings that want to distract us. And then there’s what I like to call “human airplane mode"—it's when we take steps to turn down some of the noise from other tasks or delights that want our attention.

Here are 5 rituals that will help you tap into your own human airplane mode:

1. Literally and Mentally Go Deep Into Airplane Mode

Everyone knows how to switch to Airplane Mode when you’re about to fly, but toggling that little switch can have serious benefits for your life on the ground as well. Stopping all incoming texts and emails creates a forcefield around your phone—there’s no point in checking it, because you won’t be able to check the Internet or respond to any texts.

Stopping all incoming texts and emails creates a forcefield around your phone.

Knowing you’re unreachable to the rest of the world will make you want to connect more deeply with whatever task is in front of you.

Of course, this might not work for your lifestyle—if you have kids or urgent business, it’s unlikely you’ll want to go this far off the grid.

If that’s the case, try creating a figurative airplane mode. Send a Slack message to your team telling them you’re going into heads down time. Or, spend an afternoon working from a new coffee shop or spot in the office where you’re far from the chatty Kevins and Kathys. Or, if pesky thoughts pop up to distract you, imagine yourself mentally turning a switch to airplane mode. Visualize your focus, then go deep.

2. Ask Yourself: “Would I Pay to Read This?”

Perhaps my favorite trick of all.

When you’re reading something on your phone, computer, or scrolling through a feed, consider: Would you actually spend money to read this right now?

Even asking this question will make you consider what it is you’re doing. Hmm, you probably wouldn’t pay to read the Facebook status updates of the woman who you haven’t spoken to since swapping your Astronomy notes freshman year in college. So why are you reading it now?

3. Make Meals a Distraction-Free Zone

Yesterday I ate a giant sushi bowl without really seeing what I was eating. How’d I manage to miss looking at the spicy salmon and tuna sitting atop a beautiful bed of greens? Easy. I had my fork in one hand…and my phone in the other.

Eating can be an incredibly mindful and restorative activity—if you let it be.

Putting down your phone or to-do list during mealtimes can help you concentrate on the taste and flavors in front of you—and connect better, if there’s a person sitting across from you.

4. Create Some Essential Distance

If there’s a bag of Starburst jelly beans in my apartment, I will find them. Doesn’t matter if they’re on the counter or behind a cabinet door on the highest-of-high shelves—I will want those little sugar nuggets.

Our phones can have a similar hold on us. Research shows that even having our phone within eyesight can distract us. It helps to create some space—if you work at a desk by day, try leaving your phone in your purse. If you work from home, keep it in another room.

Even having our phone within eyesight can distract us.

The same holds true for that enticing Netflix series. Try logging yourself out of Netflix to create one more barrier between you and a four-hour The Crown session.

Instead of thinking of your computer as an essential extra limb (or is that just me?) think of it as a source of entertainment used sparingly. Would you carry around your remote control all day?

5. Pay Attention to How You Feel

I know that if I drink one cup of coffee in the morning—alright, it’s more like two—and one cup around 3 p.m., I feel appropriately caffeinated to deal with email annoyances, low-level stresses, and, in general, my life.

But on the days I go rogue—like, um, today—and I have an extra Americano at a morning coffee meeting, and perhaps another at 5 p.m. because I need to stay awake for whatever reason, I know I’m asking for trouble.

You know yourself in the same way. Moderation is crucial. Maybe you need to check your emails and texts when you wake up—so go ahead, no one’s stopping you!—but then create other check-ins throughout the day to help you from getting sucked down the vortex of scrolling or clicking endlessly. Let yourself get focused.

Read next: Dear Overthinking: It's Time For Me to Unsubscribe