Did you ever reach the end of the day and feel like you didn’t accomplish anything? If you answered “yes”, you probably do some multi-tasking. Multi-taskers can be classified into 3 categories: Chronic; habitual and occasional. When you feel like the speedometer is shifting toward the chronic zone, it may be a good idea to revisit your work habits.
Daily, we get interrupted by meetings, questions and other “things” that come up. By the time we deal with all of these matters we look at our own personal to-do list and find that nothing we intended to do got accomplished. Some days this is unavoidable, but when each day starts to look like that it’s time to take action.
Today, everyone is busy and no one is ever caught up. That’s generally a good thing. We all want to be busy because that means that business is good. Because we are all busy, the temptation to multi-task has never been greater. What happens though is that we begin one task, shift to another, go back to the first one and then get interrupted again. Starting and stopping a task is more than an interruption. When you get back to a task undone, you have to re-orient yourself to the point that you left off and this itself takes time. Sometimes you even forget what you were working on and begin to work on an entirely new task.
There are many benefits to multi-tasking. You gain efficiency, productivity and flexibility. No one can afford not to be flexible in the type of environment we are in. Some of the negatives are low quality, constant distraction and the lack of prioritization.
The key to all of this is avoiding doing two things at one time in the literal sense. Brains lack the capacity to perform two tasks at the same time successfully. It has even been said that multi-tasking damages your brain. Research done at Stanford University found that multi-tasking is less productive than performing one task at a time. You may think you can handle it but research proves otherwise. A group of Stanford researchers found that “people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”
Social scientists have long assumed that it’s impossible to process more than one string of information at a time. The brain just cannot do it.
What can help? Every morning write-up a to do list. Star the items that are “must do today”. Next, denote your second priority items. As you execute, check off your done items. Not only will this give you an immediate sense of accomplishment but you will be following your daily plan and keeping priorities.
Typically, we put off tasks that require a lot of thought or we simply do not like to do. Try to get these out of the way first. As the day progresses, your brain tires so the more complicated tasks are better served in the morning.
Email is a huge time hog. Although you want to stay on top of everything, if you constantly are looking at email you will be distracted multiple times during the day. Unless your job title is “Email Monitor”, you will want to avoid this. If you get many emails, check them first thing in the morning, before or after lunch and before the end of the day. Three times. That’s it. If there is something very urgent you will likely receive a phone call rather than an email.
Productivity is especially important when you have many tasks to complete during busy times. In order to manage tasks appropriately, follow the “one task at a time” formula. Avoid getting sidetracked and try to control your time when it can be controlled by you. For example, if you set up a meeting establish a specific start and end time and stick to it.
Another point to consider is learning how to estimate accurately how long it will take you to complete a task or project. If the project is lengthy, you may want to consider breaking it up into multiple sessions if your deadline allows it. Start projects early so that you have time to complete them on time. Delegate when appropriate so that you are not absorbing tasks that someone else can complete. Set appointments to talk rather than have ad-hoc conversations.
Generally, one multi-tasks when they have too much to do. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and disorganized when you are juggling multiple deadlines and responsibilities. Results are so much better when your day is executed in an organized fashion. Once you follow the formula you will get much more done and your brain will thank you!