Nod as if listening to a friend talk while checking your phone, then look up and say: wait what? Guilty. Even though multitasking isn’t so bad, it shouldn’t take up most of our day. Multitasking can impair our ability to retain critical information and can, ironically, make us less productive. Our purpose is valuable, and if we see it as such, we can better adjust our days to improve it.

Cue Dr. Marc Milstein, author of the new book The aging brain: new strategies to improve memory, protect immunity and fight dementia, which explores how training the brain makes it stronger as we age. At 40, our brains begin to shrink, which can make it harder to concentrate and feel productive. Actively working on focus throughout your life can make a difference, he writes, and that means slowing down and being more mindful of how we move from task to task.

“Our brains can trick us into thinking we’re coping with constantly spinning plates and multitasking, when it’s quite obvious that our focus or performance has dropped off,” he says.

It’s a matter of seconds

The hippocampus, the part of the brain widely associated with memory retention, acts like a waiting room that decides what information we deem important, says Milstein, who notes that when we multitask, we don’t give our hippocampus the ability to transfer essential information to long-term memory. It only takes seven to 10 seconds of extra concentration for us to remember something, he says. No wonder we forget where we just put our keys if we’re also texting a friend at the same time.

“We tell our brains when we multitask that some things aren’t worth remembering,” he says. “This extra time [of focus] tells our brain that the information held in the hippocampus is worth it.

To signal to our brain that something is worthwhile, we can take a few extra seconds – literally – to think about it, deepening our focus on a specific task and turning off the phone in the process.

Your afternoon blues means something to you

The midday trough or the need for a coffee dating back to 3 p.m. warns us that exhaustion has struck. Instead of going through every undone task at once, it’s more efficient to focus on one thing at a time.

“Your goal is kind of like the battery in your cell phone. It drains throughout the day,” says Milstein. .”

To combat burnout, simply set yourself a schedule where you oscillate between pure focused time and break time. It imitates the decades pomodoro time management techniques. Your brain is able to pause and then refocus.

The method usually works in 25 minute intervals followed by short breaks, this way you know how much time you need to devote to a task and when you can relax. When it’s time for that focused interval, put down your phone and limit social media distractions and other tempting social butterflies. Take these breaks seriously and don’t work on even mindless tasks.

“People are surprised at how well they remember when they slow down a bit in a world where we’re forced to multitask and move on to the next one,” he says.

Be aware

Taking breaks to breathe, close your eyes, and simply resting throughout the day can help your memory. The brain’s prefrontal cortex, the director of decision-making, can strengthen like a muscle in the gym when we exercise regularly mindfulnessimproving our ability to be in the present moment.

The key to protecting the brain isn’t eliminating multitasking. It’s when we take on too many tasks all the time and at the same time that it chronically elevates cortisol (stress hormone) levels and damages our brains as we age.

“Multitasking doesn’t have to be the enemy,” says Milstein. “It’s just that we spend too much time or all day doing it, [and] it can be very trying and exhausting.

Sign up for the Makeshift Features mailing list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews and surveys.