Showing results for Category: Productivity Tips

Myth of Multitasking


photo: Kaspars Grinvalds

Must be able to multitask.  Multitasking is required.

I saw this line in a job posting only seconds ago while doing a little research for this post: “Must be able to multi-task and manage time effectively.”  What an oxymoron.  That employer has no idea what she is asking.

The pace of work just keeps getting faster and faster. Employees are often being asked to do more work with fewer resources and business owners often, literally, have to do it all. Many times you are handling not only your current workload, but also the workload of employees that have left but have not yet been replaced. Additionally, asking or even requiring your current and prospective employees to be skilled at multitasking is foolish. We aim to prove why.

The use of technology, like instant messaging, and smart phones has created an “always on” culture in many companies and individuals that is truly unhealthy. Many employees feel pressure from employers to respond to email and messages as soon as they are received regardless of the priority and regardless what they are working on at the moment. Many small business owners put the pressure on themselves to meet unrealistic client demands whether real or perceived. However, this behavior, which some label “multitasking,” is not productive behavior at all.

Much research has been done in recent years on the effect that “multitasking” has on productivity. This research has shown that the brain cannot actually process more than one activity at a time. So, technically, you are never actually multitasking. What you are doing is rapidly shifting from one task to another and to another, or what is referred to as nano-flipping.

Some of the negative effects this can have are short term memory loss and poor overall work quality. In some cases, as in Air Traffic Control, effective use of multitasking can mean life or death. Now, most of us aren’t in jobs that have life or death consequences, but the stress caused by constantly shifting priority, making unnecessary mistakes, having to redo work because of those mistakes, fixing other people’s mistakes, and on and on…can cause health problems that can lead to serious life or death consequences.

Studies have also shown that attempting to multitask can be costly to businesses both in terms of dollars and time. For example, it can take up to 25 minutes for someone to recover from interruption. According to the Institute for Innovation and Information Productivity, a study by Basex calculated losses of $588 billion due to interruptions by such things as mobile phone calls and others. This translates into 28 billion lost man hours.

Not only does this lack of productivity cost lost time for recovery and handling the interruption itself, as we noted previously it also causes stress and frustration which can lead to health troubles and increased medical costs.

While there are is a good case for limiting attempting to multitask, you will likely never be able to completely eliminate interruptions from your daily life. (If you’ve figured out how, please tell us how in the comments!) For the rest of us, here are a few suggestions to help get more work done without interruption and to help recover from interruptions when they occur.

1. Set aside distraction free periods of time to truly focus on getting things done. Limit technology use during these periods. If you’re an employee, ask for permission from your boss to set aside one hour a day free from instant messaging and cell phone calls. Turn off the automatic notification of email coming into your inbox.

2. When you are interrupted take a moment to jot down the last thought you had or where you were on the task. Use sticky notes or a note pad. This will help you to recover more quickly upon your return to that task.

3. Build your mental muscle and learn to focus better. According to the article “Multitasking Makes You Stupid” by Sue Shellenbarger, meditation may help to increase your mental ability to maintain focus while shifting priorities. (If you’re looking for a great meditation app, try Insight Timer – it’s free in the app store!)

Changing corporate culture and personal habits is a monumental task. Realizing the negative effect that the “always on, multitasking is a good thing” mentality creates will be a key to helping you to be more effective in the workplace. Multitasking may not actually make you stupid, but as we have discovered it does have negative effects on your work, product and stress level.

Now, we want to hear from you! We think “multitasking” is crazy making.  How about you? What do you think?

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How to Juggle Multiple Priorities

Three Quick Steps to Prioritizing Your Workload

I am often asked how to juggle multiple priorities, especially when everything seems important. This is a struggle for many people so I thought I would share three quick steps to prioritize your workload.

Get everything out of your head.

Very often we feel overwhelmed by all that we have to do because it’s all floating around in our heads and there is no concrete plan for getting them done. Not having captured those tasks can make you feel that you have to try and remember everything. Reality is that we can’t remember everything so it’s very important to come up with a system for capturing your thoughts and tasks in an effective way.

A very simple idea is to use a notebook or a Word document to capture all of your ideas and things to do. Get everything out of your head and on paper or in your Word document. You may not get all of your thoughts out during the first brain dump, but this gives you a good starting point. You can always go back and add tasks that you think of later.

Prioritize your tasks.

Very simply, you will now decide which of the tasks or group of tasks is most important. You can rank all of the others accordingly. Another idea is to choose 2 or 3 tasks per day to complete and prioritize among those. If you can’t decide which of the grouping is most important, just pick one and get started on it.

Get to work!

Now that you’ve captured all of your ideas and decided which is most important, it’s time to get started on the task. Focus is a key in this step. If you get interrupted, you can easily decide whether the interruption is more important than the task you’re currently working on.

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How to Deal with Being Overwhelmed

Sometimes work life can be overwhelming. Businesses have lots of moving parts and seemingly endless to-do lists.

We often try to work as quickly as possible to maximize our valuable time, but going through our days at a hundred miles an hour doesn’t leave much time for thought. When you are not thinking, you are simply reacting to what happens around you.

This is an anxiety-causing cycle that can make you feel as though you’ve lost control. When this happens, you must stop, take a deep breath, and get everything out of your head and down on paper.

Make yourself a list of tasks and then prioritize them. You might use a pad of paper or you could use index cards for each task. If you go the index card route, you can move the cards around and prioritize them easily.

Stop to really think about the pieces and parts. What is the next step you must take? Are you doing things in an efficient order? How can you get control of the situation to avoid future anxiety-filled days?

Now when you get started again, you will be working on purpose. If you get out of control again, you know that you can stop, re-group, and get started again.

Big picture thinking, too, can lead to feelings of overwhelm. Often when thinking about projects, we think about the whole project.

Let’s say for example, that you need to revamp your website. To avoid feeling overwhelmed by this project, break it down into smaller segments. Figure out what your very first step needs to be and focus on that one piece before jumping to something else. Go one step at a time, one decision at a time.

It’s important to take frequent breaks or even get away for awhile. There is only so much doing and decision making we can take. Even a quick drive walk around the block can help to clear your mind.

Also, make sure that you are getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can do serious damage to your ability to think and function properly. Get the amount of sleep appropriate for you and encourage your employees and family members to do the same.

Regaining control of the way you are spending time will give you a tremendous sense of peace. Remember, when you feel like speeding up, it’s time to slow down. Give yourself a breather and begin again refreshed and with purpose.

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