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Five top tips from a neuroscientist to remain productive and minimize online distractions

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

Do you struggle to remain productive when you are online? Do you think you might be a little addicted to internet? Dr Ryota Kanai, a neuroscientist from the University of Sussex who studies how internet and social media impact our brain, knows how to manage it. He shares his tips in an exclusive interview with Consciously Digital's Anastasia Dedyukhina. 1. Do not multitask (or, at least, don’t do it ALL the time) Multitasking is bad for your brain. Dr Kanai discovered that heavy multitaskers had less activity in anterior cingulate cortex, the area of human brain that is related to controlling one’s tasks. In simple words, the more you multitask, the worse you become at multitasking. So if you are juggling multiple tabs, writing emails, blogging, checking reports, updating Facebook and answering Whatsapp at the same time, don’t be surprised if your productivity level decreases. Do one thing at a time and keep all unrelated tabs closed, and your brain will thank you.

2. Do not go online when you are tired When we are tired, Dr Kanai explains, we lose our ability of cognitive control, as if we were drunk. No wonder we end up spending hours online doing nothing without even noticing it! If you want to be able to control your behaviour, do anything related to online only with a clear head. 3. Get distracted consciously Distractions are inevitable, but you shouldn’t punish yourself for being distracted. This doesn’t mean however that you should allow the distraction happen by itself. What really matters is whether you are still in charge of your life. Willpower is like a muscle and it needs to be trained. You can train your willpower muscle and gain a sense of control over your life by setting up “distraction activity time”. For instance, Dr Kanai allows himself a “Facebook break” at 50 minutes past every hour for ten minutes. “This way, he says, I have a sense of more control over my life. If I am in the state of the flow, I sometimes may skip these breaks”. 4. Allow time to build the flow You are probably familiar with the state when you get so concentrated on one particular task that nothing or no one is able to distract you (this state is also known as “the flow”, a concept introduced by Mikhali Csikszentmihalyi as a key ingredient of happiness). Getting into the flow takes time, which is why giving yourself short time slots to complete a task isn’t very efficient. “If I have an hour to work on something, I’m only productive for half an hour, because it takes me another half an hour to get into the flow”, says Kanai. So if you want to be productive on a particularly important task, make sure you switch off all online messengers and give yourself more time to complete one particular task. 5. Be selective about what you read or watch online Our brain doesn’t quite know, which info is good or bad for us and stores everything we come across. Dr Kanai conducted an experiment, giving out laptops to people in India who have never used internet before, and studying how their brain changes after a one month’s usage. He discovered changes in hippocampus - a brain area where we store semantic information, knowledge. After people started using internet, this area of their brain increased substantially. “We don’t really know what sort of information they are collecting and storing there”, Kanai says. “It might be garbage or something useful - the brain stores it all”. Since using internet changes our brain even in one month, make sure that the info that occupies space in your brain is useful.

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