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5 ways to stop multitasking

When you ask people how do they get so much done in a day, many will proudly respond it’s because they are great multitaskers. However, research suggests this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is this: multitasking kills productivity.

Researchers continue to find that multitasking decreases your productivity by decreasing your ability to focus and increasing your stress level. Technology has added to the problem by tempting us with email, texting, social media, etc.

So why do so many of us brag about multitasking? And if multitasking is impairing our efficiency and wasting our time, what can we do about it?

The truth is, multitasking is a misnomer. In actual fact, our brains aren’t built to multitask. We’re not working simultaneously on multiple things, were actually switching between the tasks.

According to Earl Miller, a scientist studying the neural basis for cognition, including multitasking says, “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not. You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

Depending on the task, it may take us longer to make the switch. A study at the University of Illinois by Eric Horvitz found that we could lose an average of 10 to 15 minutes per task switching back and forth. That’s a lot of wasted time in our day.

So what’s the alternative to multitasking when you have too many tasks and too little time?

Here are 5 solutions:

  1. Remove distractions. These include any shiny objects that get in the way of you and your work. Interruptions and noise are two big ones. I advised one client to work for an hour every day in the office cafeteria because she was constantly being interrupted in her office.
  2. Group like with like. This fundamental organizing principle can also be applied to task efficiency. If you group similar tasks together, like writing articles or answering emails, you are using the same part of your brain. Reduce the switching and you’ll reduce the time you waste gearing up your brain to think in a different way.
  3. Set boundaries. You are the master of your time and your work. It’s up to you to manage your workload. By setting boundaries with others, they’ll know not to expect an immediate email or phone response from you, but they will be confident you’ll get back to them in a timely manner.
  4. Just say no. This is truly an art. There’s no doubt it’s difficult to say no to people, especially your boss. Reconsider your interpretation of the word no. Instead understand that by saying yes, you are in fact saying no to all those items on your To Do list.
  5. Take a break. Remember to get up from your desk and move around. Stretch. Get a coffee. Go outside. Do whatever it takes to remove yourself from the computer. These mental breaks are important to keep your sharp and alert.

The next time someone asks you how you manage to get it all done, you can proudly tell them, by not multitasking. Instead, I focus on one thing at a time and I do it well.

How do you juggle all your tasks? Share you comments below and continue the conversation.

 

Comments

  1. This is great advice, Valeri. I learned a long time ago that I cannot always read every email as it comes in or pick up my phone each time it rings. I check both several times a day when I can set aside time to respond. At a law firm I worked for, each morning until 10:00 am was set aside for “quiet work” where we kept our doors closed and phones went to voice mail so that people could concentrate on urgent tasks and setting up their “to do” lists for the day. It made a big difference in keeping us organized and much more efficient.

    • Thanks Barb. Sometimes it can be difficult to set time aside each day to focus on “quiet work”. This idea works best when it is implement company-wide because the guilt factor is gone. Typically, this is what keeps employees from closing their doors and getting to work. They feel that in doing so, others may perceive them as unapproachable. Keep up this practice in your own business and your productivity will soar. Thanks for sharing.

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