In my coaching work, one of the issues I notice affecting most people is the lack of focus. Whether they are top-level athletes, managers or musicians, the best performers know how to push away distractions and focus on their work without feeling guilty about it. They also understand that multitasking is a myth. 

Multitasking is a Myth

According to current research on multitasking, the magic number for the brain seems to be four.1 We can drive, listen to someone talk, and look out the window, but once more things start to pile on, we lose our focus. Our brain isn’t wired to handle so many things at once. 

Have you ever tried to sing along to a song while reading a book? Most people would be unable to do so and then repeat what they sang and read. Instead, our brain focuses on one task and then very quickly switches to another. What we call ‘multitasking’ is really just the brain racing from one thing to the next.2

A study by Stanford looked at people who seemed to multitask, reasoning that they must have excellent control over their focus and what they pay attention to. However, through a myriad of tests, researchers found that heavy multitaskers didn’t do well at anything. Their memories were worse than low-level multitaskers (people who only focused on one or two things at a time) and they could not ignore the many distractions during the test.

Scientists weren’t clear if the chronic multitaskers had an innate inability to concentrate (some dysfunction in the brain) or if they were damaging cognitive control by trying to do too much at once. The results of the study were clear, however. Multitasking without mistakes just isn’t possible.3

Improving Integration IS Possible

Like a conductor in front of an orchestra, the brain can become more integrated, which increases our performance capacity. What can we do to better ignore distractions and focus on our work? The Brain Integration Scale, created by Dr Harald Harung and Dr Fred Travis, has been used by researchers to examine the integration of the brain in a clinical setting more closely.

There are three components to the scale. First is greater integration of the prefrontal cortex as measured by coherence. This means that different parts of the brain are synchronised and firing in the same way, focused on the same goal. 

Second, broader awareness as measured by alpha amplitude (a kind of brain wave). Broad awareness means we have higher alpha1 waves and lower gamma waves. Alpha1 waves indicate that a person is calm and alert with a greater inner balance. Someone in this state is more adaptable to changes and is ready to calmly press forward even in the face of adversity. 

The final component of the Brain Integration Scale is the efficiency and timeliness of resource allocation. Simple tests are used to measure reaction time, or how fast you respond to certain stimuli. Ideally, you should react quickly when needed and relax otherwise, keeping your brain in an efficient and economical state. 

As brain functioning becomes more and more integrated, consciousness (the mind) becomes more and more invincible, and then any dictate of the mind is immediately followed by the body. 

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

How can we Minimise Distractions and Increase Focus?

We already know we cannot truly multitask. We also understand there is a way to measure how integrated our brain is, even if this isn’t available for everyday use. But, how can we improve coherence, awareness and efficiency? What can we actually do to minimise distractions and increase our performance? Some helpful tips include:

  • Realising that you can’t multitask, no matter how good you think you are. Our brain simply isn’t wired to think that way, unfortunately. Instead of trying to do everything at once, make a list (most important things at the top, least important at the bottom) and focus on knocking items off the list. Whatever doesn’t get done today can be prioritised on the list for tomorrow. 
  • Turn off the phone, email and constant alerts. Our lives are busy, and having our texts and emails handy are great...until they are a distraction. If you need to focus on something, turn off your alerts or move to another area, leaving those distractions behind for a little while. Don’t let your phone rot your brain!
  • Take brain breaks. Your legs get tired during a marathon, and your brain gets tired while working all day, too. You will be more productive if you spend some time taking a walk or chatting with others (about non-work things) for a few minutes here and there throughout the day. Physical and mental breaks will help you focus when you return to your tasks.
Can you ignore distractions when you need to focus?
  1. Moskowitz C. Mind’s Limit Found: 4 Things at Once, (2008, accessed 22 November 2021).
  2. Mautz S. Psychology and Neuroscience Blow Up the Myth of Effective Multitasking. Inc., (2017, accessed 22 November 2021).
  3. Gorlick A. Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows, (accessed 22 November 2021).
  4. Harung HS, Travis F. Excellence through mind-brain development: the secrets of world-class performers. Routledge, 2016.
Originally posted on: 15 December 2021
Last updated on: 20 May 2024
Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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