In the first two parts of this article we learned that multitasking causes a host of problems that can be particularly detrimental to GMAT scores. Research shows that multitasking makes it very difficult for a person to focus, damages the short-term memory, makes it hard to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and slows down the transition from one task or way of thinking to another.
Once you have admitted that you are a multitasker then you are ready to address the problem. It may seem a bit overwhelming to just change the way that you approach your job and your life, so here are some practical suggestions.
1) Distraction-Free Zone
All of your GMAT studying needs to be as distraction free as possible. After all this is the area where you are trying to bring the most focus. Turn off every device that you can when you are studying. Force yourself to do without the stimuli that you are used to. Really work hard on the problems in front of you and do not allow yourself the relief of changing the task.
The GMAT is over 3.5 hours long. You may not be able to go distraction free for 3 hours right from the start. Why not start with 1 hour blocks? After each hour you can check your devices. Try to increase the time until you reach 2.5 hours with a 10 minute break in the middle. This will build your ability to focus without boredom or distraction.
2) The 20- Minute Rule
I am borrowing this one from Stanford’s Dr. Nass (and of course it is similar to the Pomodoro technique which requires you to stay on task for 25 minutes at a time). Dr. Nass applies this to email but I apply it more universally. If you are going to do something – do it for at least 20 minutes straight.
There is something about focusing on a task for at least 20 minutes that prevents the problems associated with multitasking. 20 minutes seems to be long enough to actually bring some focus and to get some real work done. If you are checking email – do THAT and ONLY that for 20 minutes. If you are going to use Facebook or Twitter – try to do it all at once (20 minutes should be a whole day’s worth of tweeting). I know that is tough and you might just need to use social media less frequently. The point is to stop channel surfing with your brain.
3) Sports and Hobbies
There are times when we naturally practice focus and concentration. A tutoring student of mine plays golf frequently. A round of golf is even longer than the GMAT exam and can require just as much concentration. Especially if smart phones are turned off and only emergency interruptions allowed. Other sports and hobbies require the same focus and are great opportunities to practice NOT multitasking. Gardening, reading, jigsaw puzzles, even just sitting quietly at the beach can help break the cycle of constant stimulation.
4) Do One Thing at a Time
This last piece of advice may seem the most obvious given the research quoted above, but it may also be the hardest thing to do. As much as you are able to do so, structure your life and your work so that you are usually doing just one thing at a time. Remember, you might just become 40% more efficient!
All of the above advice comes down to one thing: if you allow yourself to become distracted most of the time in your daily life, you will not be able to suddenly focus when practicing for or actually taking the GMAT. Use the GMAT as an excuse to change your life for the better! Stop multitasking now!
David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.