The art of multitasking

Whether you are on the road to embarking on your dental school journey or already immersed in the rollercoaster ride called “dental school,” one of the most valuable assets you can acquire to enjoy the process of this journey is multitasking. However, it’s important to make sure you are multitasking efficiently.

Saying no to distractions is the hardest but most important first step to mastering this skill. Try to say no to two hours of scrolling through Instagram. Maybe you can skip that social gathering on a Tuesday night and leave it for the weekend. If you keep mindlessly watching YouTube videos when you need to focus on your reading, say no to Wi-Fi until you finish that seemingly endless chapter. Doing simple swaps is sure to help you stay focused and avoid wasting time on tasks that need to be done, especially if doing two at the same time.

Prioritize what projects you choose to work on and when, while trying to combine working on the right tasks together. Write down which tasks need to be done as soon as possible, as well as which ones require your full attention. It already can be a little more challenging to jump from task to task since your short-term memory can only handle so much. Make sure the tasks you do pair up have something in common so you can complete each one effectively and in a timely manner. Try listening to your operative lecture while simultaneously applying the knowledge you are hearing by practicing on your simulation mannequin tooth. You can also pair up easy, mindless tasks with ones that need a little more focus. Maybe you can listen to your lecture while making your lunch or exercising, or you can listen to that audiobook you’ve been wanting to read while practicing on your simulation mannequin.

Make sure you give your brain a break. Keeping your mental functioning at the highest level is what will give you the energy to multitask efficiently. Whether it’s by taking time out of your day to meditate, pray, do some yoga, close your eyes for 10 minutes in between lectures or anything that helps your brain not work for a little bit, you will be giving yourself and your brain that extra boost to keep going. Here are a few links that have helped me:

Learning how to multitask in a way that does not overwhelm you enough to cause even more stress is a skill that needs practice. The good news is anyone who sets their mind to practicing this skill enough — knowing the power of what having it in our world nowadays is — can do it!

~Loulia Al Bitar, Virginia ‘23

Loulia Al Bitar

Loulia Al Bitar is a third-year dental student at the VCU School of Dentistry. She loves spending time with her family and friends, and everything dentistry.

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  1. Most people believe that multitasking is a skill that can be learned and perfected with practice. However, recent research suggests there may be more to it. It turns out that some people are better at multitasking than others.

  2. So what makes a good multitasker? A recent study published in Nature found that the ability to multitask may be related to a person’s working memory capacity. Working memory is the part of your short-term memory that allows you to keep information “in mind” while working with it.

    So if you’re someone who often feels scattered and unfocused, it may not be entirely your fault. You may have a lower working memory capacity than other people.

  3. There are some things you can do to improve your multitasking skills. One of the best things you can do is to practice “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present moment without judgment.

    When you’re mindful, you’re not trying to multitask or accomplish multiple things simultaneously. You’re focused on the task at hand. This way can help you filter out distractions and stay on track.

  4. If you’re constantly being pulled in different directions, it may be helpful to set some limits. For example, you might turn off your email notifications when trying to focus on a specific task. Or you might schedule breaks into your day so you can take a few minutes to yourself without being interrupted.

  5. People with higher working memory capacity can better filter distractions and focus on the task. They’re also better able to switch between tasks without losing track of what they are doing.

    So if you find yourself constantly being pulled in different directions, it may be helpful to increase your working memory capacity. One way to do this is through “memory training” exercises. These exercises can help you improve your ability to remember and process information.

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