Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and you could tell the minute that they got a text? There was a slight pause or distraction and you knew that they were no longer in the conversation, even momentarily. This is an example of multi-tasking and turns out, multi-tasking is a myth! Multi-tasking is actually task switching or moving back and forth between tasks.
People who multitask are less productive, more prone to making errors, and take longer to finish things. Since most of us have multiple things that we need to finish within the course of a day, how do we accomplish this?
Multi-Tasking Myth Buster #1: Know What You Are Working On
You may have things that you need to do on a weekly or monthly basis as well as things that come up on an ad hoc basis. I track the things that I need to do regularly in an electronic format (OneNote if you are interested). Then I also keep a running electronic list of projects that I am researching or in process/on hold with. I write down on a piece of paper the one task that I am working on at the moment so that I always know what I am working on. That way, if I get interrupted, I can refer back to that piece of paper and continue.
Multi-Tasking Myth Buster #2: Pomodoro Technique
This involves focusing completely on one task for 25 minutes. At the end of 25 minutes, take a quick break - stretch, walk, drink water, check email. For full details, you can check out this article here.
How to make this work:
Choose ONE task to work on.
Closeout of email, hide your phone, remove electronic distractions.
Set a timer for 25 minutes and work exclusively on the one task.
If you find it difficult to stay focused for 25 minutes, try 15 minutes or 10 minutes at first. When I first implemented this technique, 25 minutes felt like an eternity! The goal is to stay focused on one task and ignore distractions. You may find that you have all kinds of great ideas that you want to remember when you first start doing this. Keep a piece of paper and pen near you to help capture these ideas.
Multi-Tasking Myth Buster #3: Chunking
This involves working on similar things together. For instance, set aside specific chunks of time to read and respond to email. If you work in various software apps, chunk the tasks you finish in those software apps together. When I used to work in software support, I would try to do all of my tasks in SharePoint together. Then I would move to tasks in Salesforce, etc. This saved me the time of switching between software programs. Also, there were different processes, thought processes, etc. that I needed to accomplish in each, so it helped me be more efficient, too.
When I am working on a complex project, I will block off time in my calendar and focus on that one project. I also turn off my Outlook email notifications to keep the focus on that one project.
How to make this work:
Choose one type (or category) of task.
Work on that type of task in one chunk of time.
Block off time on your calendar if necessary.
Tackle your most important tasks first.
Of course, there are certain jobs, or days or times of year even that can make this more difficult, but I think most of us have trained ourselves to be distracted or to switch back and forth.
Let me know what you think of these techniques and what techniques you use to stay focused!