How many things are you able to do at once?
Most people believe that they are extremely good at multi-tasking. We believe that we can watch a movie, do productive work and carry on a conversation with a friend all at the same time.
But are we doing any of these tasks well?
Are we really following the plot of the movie we’re watching? Are we really doing the best work of which we are capable? And are we giving our friend the full attention that they deserve?
To see how good of a multi-tasker you are, take this test:
See if you can write down a list of all 50 states.
When you have listed 10, see if you can continue writing them while also figuring out the answer to 18 x 23.
Were you able to do it?
WHY WE ARE TERRIBLE MULTI-TASKERS
We have 2 distinct parts of our brain that help in our problem-solving. One is the limbic system, which makes our easy and automatic decisions such as brushing our teeth, or stopping at a red light.
The problems above both require the pre-frontal cortex to solve.
If I were to ask you to write the 50 states while doing a simple problem like 10 x 5, you would have had no issue doing it. 10 x 5 is easy. It only requires our limbic system to solve, so you can successfully multi-task.
The pre-frontal cortex, however, cannot multi-task. The problems it deals with are too complicated to do more than one at a time.
So if you really do try to follow the plot of a good movie, do thoughtful work, and carry on a conversation with a friend — all tasks of which require the prefrontal cortex — you will unknowingly actually be switching from one task to the next and not giving your full attention to all 3.
This means you will be missing out on important information in the movie, making major mistakes in your work, and probably giving your friend poor advice.
To see just how bad we humans are at multi-tasking, watch this self-proclaimed multi-tasking genius be put to the test.
WHY OUR BRAINS REQUIRE FOCUS
Have you ever wondered why some animals have eyes on the front of their heads and others on the side? They serve two very different purposes, which played a significant role in the evolution of the species.
Frontal eye placement, like we have, has a narrow line of vision. This allows an animal to see more detail on objects up close as well as into far off distances.
Whereas placement of eyes on the side of the head allows an animal panoramic view of its environment, giving them the ability to scan the entire area for predators.
With these differences in field of vision, the brains of each sets of species evolved very differently. Because they did not have a full scan of the environment at all times, front-sighted animals learned to find clues within their field of vision that indicated whether other animals were around.
This caused them to fixate on one thing in their line of sight and begin to think abstractly about what it could mean. Once they determined what the clue meant, they had to come up with the ability to plan their next move in order to ensure survival.
This was the first development of focus.
The ability to pinpoint one thing in our environment and give it our full attention helped ensure our survival. It allowed us to develop our brains as we attempted to understand the clue and think about what it could mean. 
Side-sighted animals, on the other hand, had a view of their surroundings at all times. With their panoramic sight, their brains evolved to become very good at multi-tasking. They had to always be on the lookout for both food and predators, responding to multiple stimuli at once.
Over time, the differences in focus and multi-tasking began to move front-sighted animals further up the food chain. Because we had to focus and think abstractly, our brains developed much more rapidly than the simple scan and react mindset of the side-sighted animals.
We were training our brains to think deeper about objects within our sight.
This helped us learn more about the physical properties of things and how we could use them to make tools to hunt and defend ourselves. Because things in our environment had our complete focus and attention, we were able to learn and think creatively to help ensure our survival. 
WHAT THIS MEANS TODAY
Today our society unjustly reveres those who are great at multi-tasking. Because there are so many stimuli that we can respond to, and so many things that we can be doing at once, we believe doing so is beneficial.
What multi-taskers do not realize, however, is that this process actually devolves their brain!
Rather than following our ancestors lead by training the brain to learn and be creative through deep focus, they are actually following the path of the side-sighted animals. 
By multi-tasking, they are attempting to apply the logic of their limbic system — which can only handle simple problems like 10 x 5 — to much more complicated tasks. This is extremely dangerous.
Not only will this lead to low-quality work, but it will also strengthen the limbic system, which also motivates us to indulge in unhealthy food, give up on challenging tasks, and skip our workouts. Essentially, the more you multi-task, the weaker your willpower becomes.
The flip-side, though, is that you can strengthen your willpower by training your mind to focus. If you truly focus on one task at a time, not only will you do better quality work, but you will also be training your pre-frontal cortex.
You will be exercising your ability to solve problems by relying on the part of your brain that is responsible for your willpower.
This means that when the problem of “should I resist those donuts” comes up, your brain will naturally rely on the pre-frontal cortex to solve the problem, rather than the limbic system. 
AN EXERCISE TO INCREASE YOUR FOCUS
To train your brain to become more focused, try this meditative exercise from Andy Puddicombe from Headspace. Simply doing this exercise for 10 minutes/day for a week will give you significant results!
Go to a quiet room where you can sit upright and you will not be disturbed.
Set a timer for 10 minutes, take a seat in a chair and make sure that you are completely comfortable.
Find something in your direct line of vision to focus on and take 6 deep breaths. With each exhalation, allow your body to soften as you become more and more relaxed. On the 6th exhalation, gently close your eyes.
Begin by focusing your attention on the points of contact between your body, the chair and the floor. Feel the sensation of your arms on the legs and your feet on the floor.
Then begin to take in the senses of the space around you – any sounds that you hear, any smells, etc. Simply become aware of your surroundings.
Then turn your attention to your breath. Feel your chest expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale.
Once you are comfortable with the rhythm, begin to focus your attention on your feet. Feel the sensation of your feet on the floor and visualize the space around them.
After about 20 seconds of focusing your attention on your feet, move up to your naval (the bottom of your stomach). Visualize how it looks and begin to feel it as your stomach moves through the process of breathing.
After another 20 seconds, place your attention on your diaphragm (the top of your stomach) and do the same practice.
Then move your attention to your chest.
Then move your attention to your throat.
Then move your attention to your forehead.
Then move your attention to the top of your head.
Once you have spent 30 seconds at the top of your head begin moving back down those points. This time spend only about 2-3 seconds on each point.
When you reach your feet move your attention back up each point.
Continue to move up and down touching each point with your attention until the timer goes off.
This practice trains the mind to place focus where you want it. It will help you become fully engaged in tasks and reach a state of flow. You will also find that fewer distracting thoughts enter your mind and you will have fewer temptations to procrastinate.
Like any exercise, this will be harder at the beginning and easier as you continue to practice. At first, you will have many distracting thoughts, which is normal.
Simply allow these thoughts to come and go. If you ever find yourself distracted, simply bring your attention back to the exercise and back to the points of attention. Every time you do this, you are training the brain’s ability to tune out distractions and focus its attention where you want it.
We all believe that we are much better at multi-tasking than we truly are. We may be able to fake our ability to multi-task on some projects, but ultimately when things get complicated enough, they require our full attention.
Multi-tasking is not only ineffective, it is dangerous. Every time we try to multi-task, we are strengthening the short-term minded part of our brain that wants to indulge, be lazy and rest.
However, if we train the brain to focus, we will not only create better quality work, we will also be strengthening the part of our brain responsible for our willpower. This part of the brain is what helped us survive the harsh wilderness millions of years ago, and it can also help us survive a world of constant stimulation and temptation to multi-task.
Do the above exercise for 10 minutes/day and you will see some amazing benefits to your focus, thinking, and ability to exert willpower!